I’m deeply saddened by the news that actress/director Regina King’s 26-year-old son, Ian Alexander, Jr., recently died by suicide. This really shook me, because not only do I have a son near his age, but because I’ve been a HUGE Regina King fan for decades. If you ask my close friends, they’ll tell you that for years, I referred to Ms. King as the most underrated actor in Hollywood. Thankfully, she’s now getting the praise and accolades she deserves.
But this post isn’t about the awesomeness of Regina King (although, I could easily write one). Rather, it’s about what you should know about seeking mental health treatment. Young Ian’s suicide just makes this post tragically timely.
Also, January is apparently Mental Wellness Month, which is not to be confused with Mental Health Awareness Month, which is in May. It also shouldn’t be confused with Mental Health Awareness Day, which is October 10th. Listen. I don’t know who makes up these themed months and days, but you’d think they’d be better coordinated and less confusing.
At any rate, here at SuzyKnew!, we believe that mental health and wellness should be at the forefront of our collective consciousness ALL THE TIME. Talking openly and often about mental health, illness, and treatment is just one way we can ALL dismantle the stigma associated with mental illness.
So, if you’re one of the many folks who resolved to get mentally healthier in the new year, but aren’t sure where to start, this post is for you. Because to be honest, getting mental health care isn’t as easy as all the “help is available” posts that pop up on social media whenever there’s a celebrity suicide implies. It’s also not necessarily how it’s portrayed in movies and on tv. Getting effective treatment can be daunting and time-consuming. It can be confusing and unnecessarily cumbersome. But if you know this going into it, you’ll be able to manage your expectations and get the help you seek.
(Disclaimer: the following is based solely on my own lived experiences. I am NOT a mental health care professional or expert. I’m just a Black woman who’s had to navigate mental health issues for decades.)
Here are a few things I think you should know before seeking mental health treatment:
- Know Your Coverage: First and foremost, you need to understand how you’re going to finance your mental wellness journey. If you have health insurance, you need to research exactly what kind of mental health treatment it covers. For example, many plans only cover a set number of therapy appointments per year before you pay out of pocket. Your insurance coverage (or lack thereof) will determine who you see for treatment, as not all mental health care providers accept all insurance plans. If you don’t have health insurance, you can still get treatment, but your options will be limited unless you can afford to pay a lot of money out of pocket. But there are low-income options, as well. You just need to do your research.
- Patience Is Everything: You’re gonna need a TON of patience before you get started. Especially during the pandemic, finding treatment may be challenging. Agencies and practices have had to pivot to accommodate patients virtually during these trying times. The demand for mental health services skyrocketed in the past two and a half years, stretching mental health care providers to their very limits. This means that many practices have stopped accepting new patients. So it may take several phone calls to find a practice or agency that can accommodate you, and even then, you may have to wait weeks before getting an appointment. (Unless you’re in crisis or immediate danger, in which case, emergency accommodations will be made.)
- Your Psychiatrist Ain’t Bob Newhart: I know I’m dating myself, here. But if you understand the reference, you probably expect a visit to a psychiatrist to include lying on a couch discussing your troubled childhood or your weird fetishes. Well, it ain’t like that AT ALL! In my experience, the psychiatrist is just the person who prescribes what, if any, medicine you’ll take. And that’s it. Of course, they work closely with your therapist and/or case manager, though. And they also require your full medical history, including any medications you take. While you do have to “meet” with your psychiatrist at regular intervals to see how you’re doing with the meds, you won’t be on the couch sharing your deepest thoughts. To be honest, I don’t even like my psychiatrist (he’s kinda douch-y and a bit of a mansplainer), but he manages my meds perfectly, so I guess I’ll keep him.
- A Good Case Manager is Key: Your treatment team may include a case manager who is, again, NOT your therapist. The case manager oversees the development of your treatment plan, including the kind of therapy you’ll receive. If you’re going through an agency or practice with several therapists, the case manager can help you find the right one for you. For example, per my request, my case manager assigned me to a Black woman therapist. A good case manager also has access to other resources you may need to improve your life.
- All Therapists Aren’t Created Equal: Fair warning: finding a therapist who “works” may take some time. Your first therapist may not be a good fit. Or your second, third, and fourth ones might not be right for you. I know how excruciating this can be when you’re battling a mental illness and you just want help. But remember, you’re in the driver’s seat, here. Your feelings and comfort level matter. So, if you need to leave one therapist to find another, you can and should do so. That said, it’s also important to be clear about what you want out of therapy and who you prefer to help you get it. If you’re only comfortable talking to a woman, then seek a female therapist.
- Getting Mentally Fit Takes Time and Requires Regular Maintenance: Attaining good health is a marathon, not a sprint, especially when it comes to mental wellness. If you sought therapy/treatment for a mental health crisis, you’ll likely have to continue treatment even after the crisis has passed. You’ll need to keep your treatment plan in place for a while, even if it’s scaled back or modified. This is especially true if medication is part of your treatment journey. It’s never good to abruptly stop taking meds just because you feel better. In fact, suddenly stopping many meds can lead to adverse reactions, serious illness, or even death. That’s why it’s important to work closely with your treatment team to taper off your meds and scale back your treatment. Working with the experts is the best way to ensure that your healing lasts.
I believe that everyone can benefit from mental health care, even if it’s just therapy. Just like regular physicals lead to longer lives and better health, so does regular mental health care. Because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, too many people go untreated, which never ends well for the person, their loved ones, or anyone else they encounter. Untreated mental illness accounts for so much of what’s wrong in society.
I hope these little tips help you on your mental wellness journey. Comment below if you’ve got some helpful hints to share. In the meantime, be well and stay safe out there!