“I Need Help:” Where to Start Your Mental Health Treatment Journey

hug support

Maskot / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

If you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed, or just “off” in some way, but don’t know where to start when it comes to getting help, you are not alone. In 2020, for example, over 21% of American adults experienced mental health conditions, yet less than half of them (46.2%) received help.

It can be difficult to start your mental health journey, but simply saying to yourself, “I need help” is a wonderful and empowering first step. Read on for information about how to recognize mental health conditions, how to get the help you need, and other important resources for addressing your mental health concerns.

How to Know If You Need Help

In any given year, about 1 in 5 of us will experience a mental health condition. Mental health conditions look different for each of us and we each experience them in unique ways. Particular mental health conditions can’t be self-diagnosed; you need a formal diagnosis from a doctor or therapist. But there are some signs that might indicate that you need help.

Signs of Mental Health Conditions

Some of the most common signs that you may be struggling with your mental health include:

  • Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Changes in sleep: having trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Irrational thoughts or racing thoughts
  • Feeling anxious, nervous, or irritable
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Flinching easily; hypersensitivity to sensory stimulation
  • Personal behavior that feels out of character to you
  • Feeling disconnected from yourself and others; feeling numb
  • No longer wanting to participate in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Having trouble at work, school, or in your social life
  • Have thoughts of self-harm or suicide

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), just having a few of these symptoms isn’t enough to definitively say that you have a mental health condition. But experiencing any or several of these is a reason for you to seek care from a healthcare professional or mental health professional.

Importantly, if you are having thoughts of suicide, this is considered a medical emergency, and you should seek immediate help.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Barriers to Seeking Help

Even if you are experiencing some of the symptoms of a mental health condition, and know it’s probably best to reach out, it’s common to feel some hesitation. Case in point: according to a study published in the British Journal of General Practice, 35% of respondents who were experiencing signs of mental health disorders did not seek help.

The researchers found that there were several reasons why they felt reluctant to get help, including:

  • Beliefs and stigmas against the idea of seeking help for mental illness
  • Struggles with expressing or sharing feelings
  • The idea that you are supposed to handle your mental health struggles on your own
  • Difficulty finding or accessing mental health services

In other words, many people don’t seek help because of their belief systems surrounding mental health, along with deep societal stigmas around the idea of seeking help. But it's a myth that seeking help is a sign of weakness or that there is any shame in expressing what is going on with you. Everyone deserves to have their feelings heard and respected.

How to Get Help

When you first start out on your mental health treatment journey, you may feel overwhelmed, and you might not know where to start. Let’s go through the steps and options that are available to you.

For Immediate Help

Sometimes you need immediate help for a mental health concern. If you are thinking of harming yourself, having thoughts of suicide, are hearing voices or having hallucinations, you should seek immediate mental health and medical care. If your loved one is experiencing any of these things, you can reach out for them.

If you need prompt help, you should call your healthcare provider, or visit your nearest emergency room or urgent care center.

Finding Mental Health Services

There are many options when it comes to mental health care, from counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, group therapy, mental health support groups, and online therapists.

When you are just starting out on your mental health journey, it can be helpful to visit your primary care provider. They can rule out any medical conditions that may be causing your symptoms, and help guide you to a mental health service that is right for you.

Paying for Therapy

Most health insurances will cover therapy, though their coverage may be limited, and only certain providers may be covered.

The Affordable Care Act ensures that most insurance plans cover mental health services. All marketplace plans do, and many individual and HMO plans do as well. Medicaid, Medicare, and CHIP plans have required mental health coverage components.

It's a good idea to call your insurance company to find out what services and providers and covered. If you are looking for more free or lower-cost services, you might consider:

Another choice to consider is online therapy, which usually offers lower-cost options, and options that are more convenient for working people, parents, people with disabilities, and people who have fewer choices in their local area. Online therapy is not for everyone, and some people prefer in-person therapy. Still, studies have found online therapy to be effective for many people when it comes to relieving challenging mental help symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

Facing a mental health struggle and realizing you need help can be scary and disorienting. You may be reluctant to seek help because of shame. But being able to open up and say “I need help” is one of the strongest and bravest things you can do. Getting help for your challenges is possible, necessary, and the first step on your journey of healing and feeling more like yourself again.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Mental Illness.

  2. Mental Health America. Finding Help: When To Get It And Where To Go.

  3. American Psychiatric Association. Warning Signs of Mental Illness.

  4. Salaheddin K, Mason B. Identifying barriers to mental health help-seeking among young adults in the UK: a cross-sectional survey. British Journal of General Practice. 2016;66(651):e686-e692. doi:10.3399/bjgp16X687313

  5. National Institute of Mental Health. Help for Mental Illnesses.

  6. Kumar V, Sattar Y, Bseiso A, Khan S, Rutkofsky I. The Effectiveness of Internet-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders. Cureus. 2017;9(8):e1626. doi:10.7759/cureus.1626

  7. Ierardi E, Bottini M, Riva Crugnola C. Effectiveness of an online versus face-to-face psychodynamic counselling intervention for university students before and during the COVID-19 period. BMC Psychology. 2022;10(35). doi:10.1186/s40359-022-00742-7

Additional Reading

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a health and parenting writer, lactation consultant (IBCLC), and mom to two awesome sons.