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When you need help

Mental health illnesses are real medical illnesses. Nearly half of all Americans have symptoms of a mental illness at some point in life. So if it happens to you or someone close to you, you are not alone.

Even if you take care of your body and mind, there are no guarantees against mental illness. Even experts don't know the exact cause of most mental illnesses. Sometimes mental illnesses run in families. Other times they are caused by changes in the brain. Still other times they are started by a crisis, trauma, violence, or abuse.

Trauma and mental health

Trauma, violence, and abuse are very common. Almost 25 percent of all women are raped or physically abused at some point in their lives. The effects of trauma on your mental health may appear right away or it may take years. Being the victim of trauma may lead to drug abuse, alcohol abuse, unhealthy eating, smoking, unsafe sex, hurting yourself, or thoughts of suicide. If this has happened to you, get professional help so you can deal. Treatment and support can help you.

Help is available for mental health problems. If you feel out of control, or feel like a mental health problem keeps you from enjoying life, ask for help. The National Mental Health Information Center can help you locate mental health services near you.

Kinds of counseling

Learn more in the mental health resources section of womenshealth.gov

Treatments can help you feel better and be happy again. The best treatment depends on the type of problem that you are facing. It may be one-on-one talk therapy. This is when you talk to a doctor or a counselor alone. Or you may join group therapy, where you talk with other people like yourself along with a counselor. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help control or lessen your symptoms. Sometimes people use talk therapy and medicine, together. For most people, this is better than either one alone.

It's important to find a place that you trust. If you feel you are not improving, keep trying. If you still are not feeling better, see if there is another person, type of therapy, or place that can work better. You may feel more comfortable working with a female mental health professional, or with an all-female support group. You may prefer a group that has the same age, race, religion, cultural background as you, or one that speaks your language.

Your family doctor can be a good first stop to finding the help you need. Talk openly with your doctor.

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How will I pay for mental health services?

If you have health insurance, call your insurance plan, or someone in human resources at your job, and ask for a verbal and written description of what coverage is provided for behavioral health treatments. Many insurers offer coverage for mental health services and/or substance abuse treatments. Some only cover substance abuse if it co-occurs with mental illness. If you plan to use mental health or substance abuse benefits through your insurance plan, you may be required to get a referral from your regular doctor before you can receive services.

Also, your employer may offer an employee assistance program, or EAP. An EAP is a resource provided either as part of, or separate from, employer-sponsored health plans. Usually EAP visits are free, but the number of visits may be limited. Preventive care measures such as health screenings, mental health or substance abuse screening, and/or wellness activities will be provided. An EAP may not include all services and programs, but many provide aid to employees and their families for substance abuse, stress, depression, and other mental health issues. EAP visits are confidential; information discussed in these visits will not be shared with your employer.

If you do not have access to an EAP or employer-sponsored health insurance, you may be able to get Medicare or Medicaid services. To see if you are able to qualify for these and other government programs, and to see what kinds of coverage are provided, contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), at 877-267-2323 (TDD: 866-226-1819) and your State's department of insurance. On the Internet, you can find contact information for your State's department of insurance on http://www.naic.org/state_contacts/sid_websites.htm. You can also find contact information for your state's mental health program from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors at http://www.nasmhpd.org/members.html.

Your State mental health agency will be helpful in telling you how mental health services in your State are funded. In publicly funded mental health centers, such as those run by State, city or county governments, the cost of many services is calculated according to what you can afford to pay. So, if you have a lack of funds, services are still provided. This is called a sliding-scale, or sliding-fee, basis of payment. In addition, States often work with federal programs, such as Medicaid, to give help to some people or families. Information about medical and health care assistance is available at your county/city social services departments, health and human services department, or Social Security office.

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Content last updated: April 04, 2013.

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