Mental illnesses such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder involve experiencing a combination of symptoms that interfere with daily functioning and last for an extended period of time. These kinds of mental illnesses can develop from traumas that we have experienced, overwhelming stress, genetic factors or not learning healthy ways to cope with negative experiences. No matter how mental illness develops, there is no reason to feel shame about it. Mental illnesses should be thought of as symptoms on a continuum. Many of us experience symptoms of mental illnesses from time to time, and sometimes, those symptoms meet criteria for a mental health disorder. We all should take steps to promote our own mental health just like we work to maintain our physical health. Below, I highlight some reasons to take care of your mental health.

  1. Mental illness can get in the way of your productivity.

Sometimes, people try to ignore signs of mental illness (such as feeling down all of the time, not enjoying things, worrying about everything, difficulty sleeping, drinking too much, pervasive irritability, panic attacks), hoping that these symptoms will just go away. However, if the symptoms persist they will likely get in the way of your daily functioning and goals. It is best to address your mental health concerns sooner rather than later so that they don’t get in the way of you doing what you want in life.

  1.  Mental illness can cause problems in relationships.

Mental illnesses often manifest as problems in relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. It is hard to be the type of friend, partner or family member that you would like to be if you are always feeling depressed or anxious about something. Addressing your mental health concerns through therapy can improve your relationships.

  1. Mental illness gets in the way of you enjoying life.

Living with a mental illness can be pretty miserable. This is the reason that some people with severe mental health concerns consider suicide as an escape from their symptoms. When you have a mental illness, it is difficult to fully enjoy life. As Black people, it may be easy to stay in survival mode while navigating the many stressors we face on a daily basis. It is important to remember that life is not only about surviving but also about thriving. Going to therapy can not only help you address difficult symptoms, it can also help you to boldly live the life you want.

If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness or you’d just like to do more to take care of your mental health, I encourage you to consider going to therapy. Here are some suggestions for ways to find and choose a therapist.

Finding a Therapist

One of the first things to do when looking for a therapist is to check the mental health benefits of your insurance coverage. Currently, there are laws that require health insurance companies to cover psychotherapy. You can learn about your mental health benefits by calling the number on the back of your insurance card. You should ask what your co-pay or co-insurance is for therapy sessions and whether you need to meet a deductible prior to the co-pay/co-insurance kicking in. A co-pay is a flat fee that you pay no matter how much the therapist charges. A co-insurance is a percentage of the therapist’s fee that you pay (e.g. 10%) and your insurance company will pay the rest. If using your insurance is affordable, you can use the provider search page on your insurance company’s website to search for an in-network therapist in your area.

If you decide not to use your insurance or you don’t have insurance, there are mental health centers that have a sliding fee scale and will determine the rate for your therapy sessions based on your income. You may have to research such places in your area. Additionally, if you are a student at a university, you may have access to free or inexpensive therapy at your school’s counseling center, and I would encourage you to start your search by looking into services there.

Another way to find a therapist is to search for one on  www.psychologytoday.com. This website allows you to search based on location, insurance, specialties, gender, etc. Therapists have profiles on the site that include their pictures and a description of their expertise and the way they work.

Choosing A Therapist

When you have identified one or two therapists that you are interested in, you should call and see if you would feel comfortable working with them. You can ask whether the therapist has experience working with Black people or people with whom you share other identities.

Additionally, there are a number of different approaches to therapy that have proven to be effective. One of the most important things to consider when choosing a therapist is whether you feel comfortable with them and think their approach is a good fit. Sometimes you have to meet with a few different therapists to find the right person for you. I encourage you not to give up on therapy if the first person you meet with isn’t someone you want to continue to work with. Below, I have included a list of the common approaches to therapy. You can use this list to figure out what might be a good fit for you and to ask potential therapists if they work in a similar way. Please note that many therapists integrate a number of approaches into their work with clients.

  • Active and strategy focused. These therapists will help you to identify concerns and provide strategies to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors (e.g. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [CBT] and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy [ACT]).
  • Process and reflection focused. These therapists will let you guide the session and will help you make sense of your experiences and focus on creating a warm and accepting environment (e.g. Client-centered therapy).
  • Exploring childhood and family experiences. These therapists help you understand how your current behavior and experiences relate to your past. (e.g. Psychodynamic Therapy and Psychoanalytic Therapy).
  • Focus on relationship dynamics. These therapists help you understand how you relate to various people in your life and emphasize the dynamics in the therapeutic relationship (e.g. Interpersonal Therapy).

I know it can take a lot of courage to decide to go to therapy, and I hope this post will make seeking care for mental illness less daunting.