How to Pay Attention to Your Mental Health

1. How can my medical status affect my emotions?

You may be experiencing emotions that are strange or uncomfortable to you — anxiety, depression, fear, or scary dreams; or physical sensations like spells of dizziness or confusion that are both physical and emotional. These feelings can be related to your own ongoing process of dealing not only with your condition but also the stress that is just part of daily life. Side effects of medications and the demands of treatment regimens can affect emotions.

If you are newly diagnosed, you are most likely dealing with the impact of the diagnosis and what that is going to mean socially, psychologically, and physically. If you have been living with your condition for a period of time, you may be dealing with emotions related to compliance issues — taking your medications and maintaining diet and lifestyle requirements.

The bottom line is that your diagnosis can affect your mental health in a variety of ways. More important, however, your diagnosis does not mean you are “destined” to feeling this way.

2. How do I know if I need to consider mental health treatment?

While there are numerous Websites that can provide you with list of “warning signs” and guidelines for knowing when you need to seek help for mental health issues, ultimately this is a question that only you can answer for yourself. Are you isolating yourself rather than being with other people? Are you finding it difficult to motivate yourself to accomplish your day-to-day responsibilities?

Are you finding that whatever you do to maintain a positive attitude isn’t preventing you from feeling hopeless or helpless? Approach your mental health with a process of elimination by first talking to your healthcare provider about your physical health and your medications to see if there are adjustments that could be made in your treatment regimen, or if additional supportive care might be needed. Your physician may also be able to recommend a counselor or therapist if you decide to seek further treatment.

3. How do I get started in finding the right shrink?

As you begin to explore the many options for mental health-related treatment, you will quite likely be faced with a range of providers with of titles and credentials that you may or may not be familiar with. Psychiatrist, Clinical Social Worker, Counselor, Psychologist… MD, MA, MSW, PhD, CSW… licensed and unlicensed. But how do you know which one has the right credentials to help you?

Upon further exploration, you will most likely discover that there are more similarities among these professionals than differences: What they all have in common is that you sit with them for 45 minutes, you talk a lot, they talk less, and over whatever time it takes, you feel better.

While credentials and licensing are important, you can streamline your search by focusing first on finding someone you feel can help you and can work with you. Start by asking friends and trusted professionals for referrals, practitioners they have worked with personally, or whom they have heard about through their own contacts.

Gather a handful of names and start making calls. Many counselors and therapists will have a brief conversation with you regarding their credentials and approach before you decide to work with them, or will even offer you a free initial consultation.

4. Do I need to work with someone who has a background in my specific medical condition?

You may be feeling like the emotions you are dealing with are all related to your diagnosis, and want to explore this concern in your treatment, or you may be hesitant to work with someone who you are concerned may only want to talk about your condition. On the other hand, a counselor or therapist who is unfamiliar with issues related to your diagnosis, or who is uncomfortable dealing with medical issues, is also one that you would want to avoid.

So the answer to the question is “yes,” with a background that includes experience in working with clients who are facing chronic illness or life-threatening conditions, specifically your condition, as well as experience in treating patients with the specific symptoms that you are experiencing; depression, for example, or anxiety. If you have any concerns about the practitioner’s experience or comfort level in working with clients who are gay or Lesbian, or people of color, or in your age group, or in recovery, don’t hesitate to ask them.

5. How do I pay for mental health treatment?

Ongoing mental health treatment can be costly, especially when you are meeting with a counselor or therapist on a weekly basis or more. But there is no reason why cost should prevent you from seeking treatment because there is a range of options.

If you have health insurance, your policy may offer some mental health coverage, even if only partial coverage for a limited number of sessions. While you may be limited to practitioners who participate in your plan, your insurance provider may be able to refer you to the one who can help you the most.

If you are working, your company may offer an Employee Assistance Program that includes counseling services. Many counselors and therapists work on a sliding scale, based on your income. Non-profit organizations offer free and low-cost individual and group counseling conducted by mental health professionals, as well as peer-led support groups.

Universities and research institutes conduct studies that involve free counseling or therapy in exchange for participating in research. To find a resource you can afford, check with your insurance company or the HR department where you work, and look on the websites of organizations, university and research institutes.