If you think that you, or someone you’re close to, might have mental health problems, you’ve already taken the first step, which is to notice that something doesn’t seem right. For instance, someone might seem depressed, anxious, see or hear things that aren’t there, abuse drugs, or have other problems with thinking.
The second step is to get help from a psychiatrist or another mental health expert (such as a psychologist or social worker).
Normal life includes some anxiety and fear. In a stressful situation, your brain triggers a flood of chemicals into the bloodstream. Your heart beats faster; your breath becomes shallow and rapid; muscles tense; your mind goes on full alert. It's all part of the human's innate reaction to a threat: You're ready to flee or fight.
Sometimes anxiety and fear linger on and on. The feelings can be overwhelming. When they interfere with normal activities, there's a problem. Doctors call this kind of problem...
Doing these two things can be tough. But once you do, you can find out what’s going on and start to get better.
The sooner you do it, the better. Like many other medical conditions, mental illnesses are often easiest to treat when they’re in the early stages.
Where to Go for Mental Health Help
If it’s an emergency -- for instance, someone is suicidal or in a crisis -- call 911.
If it’s not an emergency, start with your regular doctor. He will check to make sure that medication or another illness is not the cause of your symptoms. If you are physically fine, he will likely refer you to a mental health care professional -- someone trained in treating mental health.
If you have health insurance, find out what your plan covers. Your employer might offer an “Employee Assistance Plan” (EAP) that offers counseling, too. If you are a veteran, the VA system also has resources.
Who Treats Mental Illness?
Many health care professionals do this, including:
Primary care doctor: These doctors are mainly trained in treating physical illnesses, but they have some training in mental problems.
Physician assistant (PA): These caregivers are not doctors, but they are trained to identify symptoms of mental illness and to treat mental disorders under a doctor’s supervision.
Nurse practitioner: These registered nurses (RNs) have extra training, including some background in treating psychiatric problems.
Psychiatrist: These are medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. Psychiatrists can prescribe drugs as part of their treatment plan. They are also trained in psychotherapy, a form of counseling or “talk therapy.”