The stigma surrounding mental health has become a hot topic recently, with more and more high-profile celebrities coming out sharing their own struggles moving the conversation mainstream. Doctors and behavioral health experts are also working hard to reduce the shame associated with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. It’s only through ending the stigma that people will feel comfortable coming forward and seek necessary (and potentially life-saving) help. While treatment options are becoming more accessible and covered by ACA-compliant insurance plans, the key to truly ending the stigma is to have more open discussions about mental health. We recently spoke with Carol Ellstein, Ph.D, a licensed psychologist in independent practice and a behavioral health consultant for Little Traverse Primary Care, Harbor Springs and Cheboygan, Michigan, about how to prioritize your own mental health and help a loved one who is struggling. Q: Where did the stigma around mental health come from? A: “We’ve always had a culture in this country that values ruggedness and people who can just ‘buck up’ and get over things. So admitting there’s a problem can be seen as being weak. And stigmas don’t just come from other people—you might have had negative thoughts about others going through a challenging time, so you internalize those same emotions when it happens to you. Also, everyone feels sad from time to time, so it's hard to judge when the way you’re feeling is something that really needs help.” Q: One out of five Americans experience a mental health issue in a year, so it’s far from a rare situation. Why is it important to see a mental health professional rather than relying on friends and family for support? A: “Your friends may have a stake in your situation or may not want to hurt your feelings. Many times, friends will respond to your issues by talking about their own problems—something that can distract you from focusing on your own health—or dismissing them because they feel uncomfortable. Feeling sad is a pretty normal experience, so it can be hard to distinguish between a major problem that requires some help and a minor one that will work itself out in time. But when you see a doctor or therapist, you’re getting an unbiased, educated perspective. A professional will also be able to come up with a diagnosis and help you formulate a plan.” Q: Only 41 percent of adults with mental health issues seek out professional help. What do people need to know about reaching out? A: “The first step can be as simple as talking to your primary care physician. They are comfortable talking to patients about issues like anxiety and depression and can look at your mental health issues in terms of your overall health. Your doctor can also recommend a trusted specialist, like a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health therapist. To find one on your own, visit Blue Cross’ Find a Doctor tool.” Q: Let’s say someone is ready to seek help; is it going to be expensive? A: “It doesn't necessarily have to be. If you don’t have insurance, reach out to your community health department and see what services are available. If you have insurance, therapy is often included in your benefits, meaning a session will only cost you a copay if the provider is in-network and you’ve hit your deductible. If you are paying out of pocket, ask your therapist about something called sliding scale. That’s when therapists lower their fees so that people with lower incomes can afford treatment. And remember, you’re going to likely feel vulnerable opening up to a stranger, so ask if you can chat with a potential therapist on the phone first to see if you click.” More resources for finding ways to best use your health insurance for mental health services can be found here:
- Does My Insurance Cover Mental Health and Substance Abuse?
- New Opportunities for Mental Health Treatment
- A New Partner in your Mental Health Treatment: Your Primary Care Doctor
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