Where to Begin
Mental illness can develop over a long period of time. Mental illness is not always easy to recognize. In the case of a teenager or young adult, some behaviors may be considered typical for that age or chalked up to rebellion, expressing individuality or showing independence. School problems, declining grades, alcohol or drug use, moodiness, depression or anxiety may be difficult to differentiate from “being a teenager.” For older adults, even the elderly, it may be hard to determine if mental health is a factor in their lives.
Mental illness may also appear suddenly and without obvious warning. Some signs include escalation and intensity of prior symptoms, psychosis, threats of suicide, involvement with the judicial system, or other behaviors such self-harming (e.g., cutting) or an eating disorder.
Regardless of the way mental illness enters your life, you may experience sadness, shock, trauma, confusion, denial and guilt. Your life suddenly turns upside down.
Adding stress and confusion to an already difficult time, the mental health system is difficult to navigate. Health and mental health providers, social services, schools and colleges, and families do not, or are not permitted to, share information. Privacy laws make it harder to coordinate services. The many financial aspects of receiving care also create challenges. Your health insurance, whether Medicare, Medicaid, an employer plan or a health exchange plan, or the lack of health insurance, directly affects which services are available to you. Some organizations (e.g., health homes) have implemented programs for people who meet certain criteria to receive most services through its one organization.
“Where to begin?” is the first question most people have.
Assessment is the first step. Since recovery and stabilization are more achievable if a mental health condition is treated early, locating appropriate affordable treatment and accessing it in a timely fashion are critical. Regardless if mental illness is mild, moderate or severe, early diagnosis is important. (Note: In the case of an emergency you need to seek care immediately. See Emergency Services.)
Various professionals can help you begin: a primary care physician or pediatrician, a school counselor, social worker or teacher, or a university Student Services or health center. Family and friends can be a great resource. You may be surprised how many people have gone to a mental health professional, or know of others who have done so. See Finding Services later in this section.
This may be a good time to call the NAMI Buffalo HelpLine (716-226-6264). Our trained volunteers – family members who have walked in your shoes – can provide support, provide resources and referrals, or by simply listening. We support you no matter where you are in your journey – whether deciding if you even need to seek services, or have been on this road for a long time.