What to Expect When Seeking Mental Health Help: Part 1

I hope more and more people are understanding that when it comes to mental health, talking out our thoughts and feelings can be really helpful.

Having trusted people around where you can be one another’s support and talk about things that are going on, is creating a solid foundation for maintaining good mental health.

But what about professional support and resources? What’s available and where can they be found?

Specifically here in Ontario, I believe that one of the biggest challenges of figuring out how to get help is the fact that it’s really confusing to know how and where to get it, and also, what’s the help that’s actually available.

Three Part Series About the Specifics of Getting Mental Health Support in Ontario

This will be the first in a series of discussions about getting help and the details behind going about getting help.

This post will address some publicly funded options.

In Part 2, we’ll discuss other kinds of resources and services, which will mostly be out-of-pocket.

And lastly in Part 3, we’ll discuss specifically about what to expect and the differences in the various therapy, counselling and coaching options available

What Publicly-Funded Options Are Available?

First of all, in terms of finding counselling or a professional to talk to, there is relatively little available that’s publicly funded.

Specifically, there are very few psychotherapy options that are covered by OHIP.

But let’s start by talking about a couple of resources available that are covered:

First off, ConnexOntario is a provincial resource for Addictions, Mental Health and Gambling issues.

At ConnexOntario, Information & Referral Specialists are available by phone, chat and email. These Specialists are not counsellors or therapists, but they are trained to provide information about the various publicly-funded options that are available.

Also, there’s your family doctor: A few years ago, there was a report that stated that approximately 75% of doctor’s visits are for stress-related issues in the US.

It’s a good first step to speak to your family doctor, but it’s important to keep in mind that they’re most likely not specially trained in treating mental health, especially being able to provide counselling or talk therapy.

But again, a good accessible and first step to getting help.

What to expect when talking to your family doctor

Many family doctors will listen to your concerns and will probably suggest one or the combination of:

Medication:

Please consult your doctor for more details and specific questions you have about medications.

But it’s important to know that there are different mental health concerns and different medication needs as a result.

If you are dealing with something that could be considered situational, which is likely to be more short term (like a change at work or temporary difficulties in a relationship), your course of medication may also be more short term. Probably in the neighbourhood of 6 months or so.

Or if you are dealing with a mental health concern or illness that is more long-term, it may be necessary to be on the medication and dosage that works on a more indefinite basis.

When it comes to medication, because every one of us is unique, finding the right medication and right dosage for someone’s specific mental health concern can often involve trial and error.

This is really skimming the surface here, but two things to keep in mind

First: If medication is prescribed for a mental health concern, be sure to have a process in place to follow-up with your doctor on a scheduled basis.

So that you can let them know how you are doing, and to adjust or change the medication and dosage if necessary.

Second: Many studies have shown that the most effective treatment plan for mental health concerns is a combination of medication and therapy. So do consider working with a mental health professional along with taking medication.

Clinical referral for a mental health support program:

Depending on the hospital network and the experience of your doctor, they may be familiar with specific programs they can refer you to.

These are programs and clinics run by hospitals, and also those run by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (known as CAMH), and would be covered by OHIP.

These programs are usually focused on specific concerns like trauma, disordered eating, substance dependencies and, as I mentioned, other specific concerns.

And you will generally need a formal referral from your doctor to access these programs.

However, because your doctor may not be aware of the right program for your needs, the one thing you might consider is being your own health advocate and going online and looking for a program which would suit your needs.

It can be a bit of a scavenger hunt, but if you are able to find a specific program, you can take that knowledge and ask your doctor for the referral. You might also find that some programs might accept self-referrals.

Lastly, it’s good to keep in mind that even with the formal referral, there is generally a waiting list for publicly funded mental health services.

Psychiatrist:

A psychiatrist is essentially a medical mental health specialist and their services are covered by OHIP.

And at least in Ontario, they are the only mental health professionals who can prescribe medication.

A psychiatrist would have the ability to provide a medical diagnosis, and the treatment protocol is mainly medication-based.

In other words, while I understand that there are a few psychiatrists who also provide talk therapy, most don’t.

And the main difference between being prescribed medication by a family doctor versus a psychiatrist would be that a psychiatrist will have more specialized knowledge about an individual’s diagnosis and how to treat it with medication.

It’s like the difference between having your family doctor being the only physician to be treating a condition like diabetes, rather than also working with a diabetes specialist.

To see a psychiatrist, you will require a referral from your family doctor.

Your family doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist they may know, or you may wish to do your own research and ask to be referred to a specific psychiatrist.

Again, my understanding is that there is also generally a waiting list even once a referral has been made.

Suggestion to seek therapy or counselling out-of-pocket:

Once your doctor has an idea of your concerns, they may suggest that you seek talk therapy or counselling.

We’ll talk more about this in the next two posts, but the most widely available services for psychotherapy with the least amount of wait would be private practitioners.

When you Google therapist, psychologist or psychotherapist, you will get a list of professionals who can be contacted directly without a referral, but their fees will be out-of-pocket for you.

However, if you have access to benefits, services of a mental health professional may be included.

But again, it can be confusing because you will need to clarify with your insurance provider which professional they cover and for how much.

In Ontario, licensed helping professionals are one of the following: Registered Psychologists, Registered Social Workers and Registered Psychotherapists.

Lower Cost Out-of-Pocket Psychotherapy Options in the GTA

Working with clients as a psychotherapist since 2009, one of the things I learned was that there are many people seeking lower cost out-of-pocket psychotherapy options.

I compiled a list of these more affordable options here, and while theses services and therapists are also limited, there might be an option that may be right for you.

Next post in Part 2: Other services and resources, including out-of-pocket options.

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