- You stare at the bills, remembering the euphoric day you bought yourself an entire new wardrobe, blithely ignoring the cost.
- Your child's school complains that he or she is either uncontrollably energetic or dreadfully withdrawn.
- Your husband's "moodiness" seems to be something far worse - and he agrees.
- You have to move - and leave your familiar therapist and/or psychiatrist behind.
In these days when managed care restricts one's choice of physicians, when insurance for mental health conditions is sharply limited, when the stigma attached to mental illness can make searching for help uncomfortable at best - it is tempting to do nothing at all. After all, it's tough enough just choosing a primary care physician nowadays.
There are many types of mental health professionals. People who suffer from bipolar disorder are more likely to seek help from a psychiatrist, the only kind of therapist who can prescribe medications. The American Psychiatric Association's Choosing a Psychiatrist (PDF file) is an excellent source of advice for this process. There are several online question lists, including Questions to Ask Your Therapist and What Questions Should I Ask Before Making a Choice that can help you through the preliminary stages in your search. And Dr. Kevin Grold's article How to Get the Most Out of Therapy suggests an interesting way to get down to business sooner when you are ready to proceed.
A psychiatrist may or may not also be a "talk" therapist. If you want to see only one person, make sure you find out whether each psychiatrist you're considering does double duty this way.
Sometimes because of insurance requirements or limited availability, the psychiatrist you must see may only take care of your medications, and you will need, if you wish, a separate therapist. (See Who Are All These Mental Healthcare Professionals?.) Your psychiatrist may have recommendations.
We have collected many more resources for you about locating and selecting a mental health professional in our Finding a Mental Healthcare Provider topic. In addition, one resource available to many people through their jobs is the Employee Assistance Program. (I myself can highly recommend this free service!)
When all is said and done, though, all the checklists in the world don't help a person find the energy to make all the phone calls, ask all the questions, set up all the appointments. It is a daunting process for the healthy person, and much more wearying for someone who is ill. If possible, do your searching when not in crisis.
Sometimes that's not possible. The best advice on this subject that I ever received was: Ask someone you trust to help - someone who is not ill, who is not likely to get rattled. You may even find that just having someone sitting with you while make telephone calls will help you through the process.
The most important thing of all is: Get the help you need!