Feeling sad, anxious, lonely, or depressed can make you feel isolated, especially if you’re suffering from chronic pain. Maybe you think nobody understands or you’re afraid of telling those around you how you feel. Reaching out for help may seem difficult. You may not know where to turn, or feel embarrassed about your suffering. Know that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Getting help is the best possible thing to do. Fortunately, many mental health resources are available to connect people with help, whether online, by the phone, or on your smart device. Here’s how to find help.
1. Call a hotline
For those feeling suicidal or experiencing a crisis that requires immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention hotline by dialing 1-800-273-TALK. The call will be routed to a trained counselor at the nearest crisis center. Callers may remain anonymous while getting the help they need.
The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also offers a helpline, available Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time. The number is 877-726-4727, and callers can receive information about services and treatments available in their area.
2. Call your doctor
Although many doctors, including primary care physicians, may not have studied mental illness specifically, they will be tapped into the resources available in your community. A doctor can recommend a skilled and compassionate therapist or offer a referral for a relevant support group or organization.
3. Tap into online mental health resources
When faced with overwhelming stress and mental health issues, you may be more comfortable looking online for support. Sometimes your loved ones may be the source of the stress (for example, if you are the primary caregiver of someone with a terminal illness), or you may be uncomfortable talking with family or friends about a mental health issue. Online support groups can offer community and caring that is anonymous and available 24/7.
Mental Health America
This nationwide non-profit runs 240 affiliates in 41 states and offers a variety of support services and referrals to connect people who need help with the services best suited to their situation.
Their website offers a search tool that enables visitors to find a nearby affiliate. They also have other resources on their website, including a link for local support groups, online options, and even a crisis hotline if you need to speak with someone immediately. Scroll down and you will find 100+ links for specific issues that include stress, grief, issues for primary caregivers, and much more.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
This non-profit organization offers affiliates in all 50 states, and can serve as a clearinghouse for other services and support systems. Visit the affiliate search page to find your local office.
NAMI also runs a hotline, reachable by calling 1-800-950-6264, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time. Through the hotline, callers may receive general information about mental health issues or referrals to support organizations. Trained volunteers are also on hand to lend a compassionate ear.
Another great resource to find online help is Daily Strength. Their alphabetized list has support for everything from abstinence and celibacy to Zellweger Syndrome and everything in between! If you are looking for an online therapist, they have references for that as well.
Mental health blogs
Sometimes it can be helpful to read the experiences of others and develop community that way.
Blogs have revolutionized how we share our human experience, and there are many excellent blogs on mental health issues and stress. Reading blogs, commenting on them, and even starting your own can be a great way to manage stress or process depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
Another online resource is message boards. These boards can act as a way to compare experiences, ask for resources, and just get suggestions on dealing with an issue. There are many boards online. Try to find a board with lots of members who are very active, and follow the same rules of any online support group: if you feel you are being harassed or taken advantage of, report the offender to the moderator and leave if the issue is not resolved.
You can find more information about free therapy options online here.
How to stay safe online
However you choose to get support online, always stay safe in your interactions.
Do not give out personal information that could direct someone to your house or your family, and follow your instincts when it comes to your interactions. There are some people who would take advantage of the vulnerable state of people in online support situations.
The key is a good moderator who is proactive and protective. Following a few safety guidelines will make your experience more positive and allow you to get the support you need!
4. Use your phone
If you’re like the average adult in the United States, there are few times in your day when you are not holding your smart phone in your hands. If you’re not, it is nearby and easily accessible. Whether good or bad, we are a culture that is tethered to our devices.
When it comes to managing mental health resources, the smart phone may be one of our greatest allies. Smart phone mobile apps exist to help people track their exercise and diet. People can tap into a variety of tools to help them with daily productivity. Can similar platforms help people with their mental health care as well?
Benefits of smart phones for mental health
In November of 2014, Newsweek presented a report on the lack of technology available for individuals dealing with a variety of mental illnesses. It speaks to the stigma and isolation that many feel when it comes to sharing their stories. Perhaps there is an erroneous belief that if no apps exist for tracking mental illness, the mental illness itself doesn’t exist.
The report discussed several recent projects that are exploring the way technology can be used to address mental illness in the United States. One in four adults is directly affected by some level of mental illness and 6% live with a more serious diagnosis. At the same time, there are still a staggering number of people in our country without access to mental health care.
The researchers believe that technology could bridge this gap. Rather than requiring patients to jump through a variety of increasingly difficult hoops just to start the diagnosis process, they can use an easily downloadable app. Let’s look at what some recent studies have had to say about smart phone apps and mental illness.
Making the diagnosis process easier
In July of 2014, researchers at the American Friends of Tel Aviv University published a reportabout an application they developed that would kick off the diagnosis process and reach more patients affected by mental health issues than traditional methods.
Ninety percent of reported suicides are attributed to mental health issues and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it has the largest burden of any disease on social and economic infrastructures around the world. The urgency to address this issue is only increasing, but the tools at the disposal of medical professionals are sorely outdated. This new technology from Tel Aviv University could be the essential piece missing from most traditional treatments.
The observable indicators of mental health are generally behavioral. Since most people already have smart phones at their disposal, tapping into this technology seems like the most obvious next step. The smart phone can monitor behavioral patterns that are typical of a variety of mental health issues.
From Dr. Uri Nivo:
“Bipolar disorder, for example, starts with a manic episode. A patient who usually makes five or ten calls a day might suddenly start making dozens of calls a day. How much they talk, text, how many places they visit, when they go to bed and for how long — these are all indicators of mental health and provide important insights to clinicians who want to catch a disorder before it is full blown.”
The application will have significant privacy protections built in so the information is only accessible by the patient’s trusted medical professional team.
Tracking behavior patterns and mental health indicators
Another research team, this time at Dartmouth College, had a similar thought. In September of last year they released this study of a new app that tracked the behavior of college students. The Android app, called StudentLife, compared relative happiness, stress, depression, and loneliness to academic performance. Using algorithms, the app can monitor these aspects of the students’ lives to determine if there is concerning behavior. Both passive and automatic sensor data from the phones showed strong correlations between the students’ mental health and performance in school.
For example, students who have better sleep habits and more social interaction were less likely to experience depression. Class attendance was not an indicator of overall wellness. Students who had more conversations were more likely to have higher grade point averages than their counterparts. In fact, the sensor data on the app was able to predict the student GPAs based on their behavioral patterns.
The initial study avoided providing feedback to the students in an effort to appropriately gauge the correlations between behavior, performance, and depression. However, in practice, feedback and intervention would be a key component of the apps function.
The future of smart phones as mental health resources
Recently, a Kickstarter campaign was successful in raising the funds to develop a smartphone app that can facilitate conversation and support for individuals dealing with the impact of mental illness.
With the popularity of Fitbit and other apps and smart devices that can help people track their physical health, it only makes sense to develop components for mental health. Mental health is often something that requires long-term support so our culture needs to shed the stigma of defectiveness that comes with a diagnosis and work on the ways mental health patients can get the help they need when they need it.
If you or someone you care about could benefit from additional support in the form of smart phone apps, there are a variety currently available. This directory from PsychCentral is a great starting place. All of the apps listed are free. The apps are designed for several conditions including anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As always, when dealing with major health concerns, whether physical, emotional, or mental, consult with your doctor about the best treatments for you.
These are just the beginning of mental health resources you can find to help. Hit the comments to share your favorites as well.