Mental Health Awareness Month: How to Find the Right Doctor for Your Needs

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! While we talk about mental health every day at TheHopeLine, that’s not the case for everyone, so it’s important to call extra attention to it each year in May. Over the past few years, the United States has seen a big increase in folks reporting problems related to their mental health, and in a world where there’s still stigma attached to seeking help, we’re here to listen to your needs without judgment. Since you may not be hearing about the ways in which you can seek help at home or at school, today we’re focusing on how you can go about finding the right kind of mental health professional to help you with whatever poor mental health symptoms you’re experiencing.

How to Choose a Mental Health Professional

Four Types of Mental Health Professionals You Can Talk To

First things first, if you’re under 18, you’re most likely going to need the permission and/or support of your parents or guardian in order to work with a mental health doctor due to health insurance reasons. Talking to your parents about depression, anxiety, or self-harm can be a little scary, so check out some of our articles about how you can go about that. Even if you and your family don’t have health insurance, most doctors, therapists, and counselors will work with you on a sliding scale for payment–don’t let money be the barrier that stops you from seeking the care you need!

Once you have those logistics worked out, here’s what you need to know. There are a few types of professionals you should consider seeing, depending on your specific needs:

1. General or Family Medicine Doctor

This might be your current primary care physician, and to a certain extent this kind of doctor can evaluate you for some mental health conditions and even prescribe some medications for anxiety or depression. If, however, your symptoms are more than mild, you should consider asking your doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist who has more in-depth, specific knowledge of mental health disorders.

2. Psychiatrist

This is a doctor that can evaluate and diagnose the full range of mental health disorders, having gone to school solely for the purpose of studying emotional and mental health. They also have the ability to prescribe a wider range of medications for mental health disorders than your general practitioner might have.

3. Psychotherapist

While some psychotherapists may be able to prescribe medications, their main function is “talk therapy.” They are highly skilled in evaluating how your mind works and how your specific mental health disorder works. They are a great person to talk to if you’re dealing with past trauma, debilitating mental health conditions that are impacting your quality of life, or issues that keep circling back around even after you thought you’d “fixed” them.

4. Counselor

A counselor, sometimes called a therapist as well, probably has fewer “medical” qualifications than the above professionals, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a life-saving source of treatment and support. If you have an interest in learning coping skills to deal with a specific source of stress and feel that your struggles are temporary or situational, this can be an excellent place to start. Most counselors will also be able to help you decide if you need to see another kind of professional as well.

Once you have your options narrowed down to 1-3 people, know that the right fit is going to be an important element of your healing. It’s not uncommon for patients to go “therapist shopping,” and a good therapist will encourage you to find the right person for you. Consider factors like gender, age, and religion when selecting who you’d like to work with. Those things can make a huge impact on how comfortable you are being honest and vulnerable with your doctor. If you want, you can even schedule an introductory appointment with more than one professional to make sure that you have good chemistry with someone before committing your mental health to their hands. When you meet anyone for the first time, you’re considering whether they treat you kindly and professionally. If you don’t establish a bond of trust with your doctor, the treatment is ultimately going to be less effective in the long run. Listen to your gut, and choose the professional who makes you feel the most safe and cared for.

Lastly, there are a lot of ways you can search for a mental health professional, from Focus on the Family’s therapist search to ZocDoc’s database of healthcare providers. We also partner with The Agape Center to provide FREE online counseling, which has become an increasingly popular way to receive mental healthcare at your convenience, from wherever you are. Check out those resources, or simply ask your current primary care physician for a referral. If all else fails, simply try googling “mental health doctors near me,” and you should find a number of results to get you started in your search.

What to Say to Your Doctor Once You Meet Them

1. Tell them about your symptoms and concerns:

  • If you have received a diagnosis in the past or if you have a suspicion of what your diagnosis might be, share that with them. If you’ve seen other doctors or tried other treatments, let them know. Giving them a full and clear picture of your story will help them provide you with the best care possible.
  • Be very specific about what you’re experiencing. Generalizing or minimizing your symptoms can throw off your diagnosis and limit the effectiveness of the treatment they recommend. If you’ve been struggling with sleeping, tell them, “I can’t seem to fall asleep until ___ pm, and then I’m wide awake by __am no matter what I do.” If you’re struggling with self-harm, say “I can’t go a day without cutting or I go crazy with anxiety. I cut myself here and here, and I always use ___ instrument.” Merely saying “I’m tired all the time” or “I’ve been really stressed” won’t help them to understand what your life is truly like.

2. Answer their questions. After you’ve had a chance to explain why you’ve come in for evaluation, your doctor will likely have follow-up questions. Answer them as honestly and in as much detail as you can.

3. Ask them questions. You’re allowed to ask them about their education, their experience, their methods, and their specialties. Anything you want to know about them (as a professional) or your symptoms, you have the right to ask! Healthcare is expensive, so get your money’s worth! Don’t feel pressured to take up less of the doctor’s time, and give yourself the chance to talk about everything that’s on your mind. Your concerns are valid, and you should feel like a top priority anytime you’re fact-to-face with a mental health professional.

Your Mental Health Is Not Your Identity

Be patient. It can take some time to find the right doctor, the right diagnosis, and the right treatment, but working consistently with a mental health professional and following their recommendations is the best way to make progress in your healing journey. There may be days that you’re tired of doctors and sick of thinking about your symptoms, but try to remember that your disorder isn’t who you are. You are a one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable rock star. Only you can do what you do. You are worth all the trouble you’re going through to get healthy, because you’re a creation of the greatest Healer there ever was. Don’t give up hope that you can find joy and peace in the midst of managing your mental health! If you are overwhelmed by the search for a mental health professional, or if you just need someone to talk to, chat with one of our Hope Coaches today. We are always here to listen without judgment, and we want to connect you with resources that can help you along on this journey.

Do you feel you may really benefit from therapy, but are afraid to see a professional counselor? Here are 9 common misconceptions about seeking help.

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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