May is Mental Health Awareness Month -- a time for renewed focus on mental health. It is a critical health problem in the U.S. according to the Department of Health.
An estimated 46 million American adults experience mental illness in a given year but only 41% get help for it, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The problems range from depression and anxiety to substance abuse.
A big reason why so many don't seek help is stigma. But there's no shame in finding a listening, caring voice and sometimes just being heard and discussing solutions is all it takes.
Here are some of the ways you can get help, from employee benefits to free and sliding scale counseling services.
Employer mental health benefits
According to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management, 81% of US employers offer mental health benefits. But many employees don't take advantage of them.
Call your insurer for a list of covered providers in your area, including therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. In most cases, once you meet your deductible, those benefits kick in just as they would for physical health issues and you just pay the co-pay.
Some companies also offer employee assistance programs that can include a therapist with office hours at the work site, free of charge for a certain number of visits per year. Of companies with at least 250 to 1,000 employees, 75% have employee assistance programs, according to the non-profit Mental Health America. That number climbs to 95% for companies with more than 5,000 employees. But only 7% of employees at these companies used the service, according to a 2015 survey.
Some 30% of all psychologists don't take insurance at all, according to Mental Health America. In that case, ask about cash rates and sliding scales.
Pro-bono and sliding scale counseling
If you qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, mental health services are part of the coverage. But there's a coverage gap for those who don't have insurance through their employer.
There are thousands of therapists around the country who do pro-bono counseling or provide therapy on a sliding scale.
You can find out who those providers are in your city by reaching out to the agencies below:
- National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
Group counseling and peer support
Contact any of the mental health organizations above to find peer groups and other group counseling services. These organizations often have affiliates in cities that host group meetings. They offer coping mechanisms to deal with stress, depression, anxiety and any number of other mental health conditions.
If you know someone who needs immediate help and may be suicidal:
- U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255
Pro-active ways to stay mentally healthy
Therapists call this list "good mental health hygiene." And you should try to do these things every day.
- Try to get proper sleep
- Watch what you eat: too much sugar and caffeine can affect your mood
- Get outside every day among plants, animals and other people
- Get moving, whether that's taking a walk, doing yoga or dancing with friends
- Limit your screen time. Increasingly, therapists are finding a connection between too much technology and depression and anxiety.