If you’ve known me for more than 3 minutes, you’ve probably heard me talk about how I think every single person on the planet should go to therapy. Therapy has saved my life, a dozen times over. I am about 8 or so years into regular therapy. I’ve taken a few breaks here and there when I was moving or just in a particular season that made it harder to regularly attend therapy.
Early in my undergraduate days, it was suggested that I experience what’s called Dysthymia – sort of double depression. It’s also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder. Dysthymia is characterized by a consistent and underlying low mood occurring for 2 or more years that is experienced in addition to regular episodes of regular depressive disorder. That’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo that boils down to this: I’m naturally a more pessimistic person whose regular mood leans toward sadness or discontentment. When something triggers a depressive episode, I experience that a little more strongly than people who just deal with regular depression because my mood and outlook are already darker.
For me, this means that my mental health is something I have to stay on top of every day. If I let my therapy, medication, or self-care routines slide, my mental health slowly deteriorates and affects every other area of my life. It sounds dramatic than it probably is, but I just wanted to give you a picture of what my experience is so that you understand where I come from when I talk about treatment options. This is something I have experienced and want to help you take the first steps to finding help.
We’ve already discussed self-care routines and how that plays into managing mental health. The two other major game changers for me are regular talk therapy and regular medication. I have tried to manage my mental health both on medication and off it. I ultimately decided that the best option for me is to use medication as one of many tools to help me maintain good mental health.
While I don’t believe medication is the right answer for everyone, I do believe everyone can benefit from talk therapy. Regardless of your budget, there are many options available. I’m going to highlight some options for those of us who have a bit of a tighter budget.
If you are an on-campus student of an undergraduate or graduate program, even part-time, go talk to your student services office. Most programs offer free counseling for students, as the fee is often built into your student fees. This is how I did my first four years of therapy, and where I made my initial progress – including the discussion of dysthymia and trying medication for the first time. If you aren’t a student but live near a university, inquire about graduate psychology program. Often they will offer some sort of community counseling for zero or low-cost, provided by grad students who are learning the art of professional counseling. I know the major public university near me offers something similar with counseling offered by grad students but supervised by trained and certified counselors.
One of the first things I always suggest is to check with your insurance provider. Some providers will cover therapy, some will offer discounts, some won’t cover it. The worst they can say is no, but they might provide a list of counselors they will cover completely or partially. Also, if you have any of that HRA spending money that applies to medications/appointments, etc – this also applies to therapy.
If you’ve checked with your insurance provider and don’t have any options there, my next suggestion is to shop around your area for a therapist who will work with you on a sliding scale payment plan. Don’t be afraid to ask about the fee, and about what wiggle room there is within that fee. The worst they can say is that they have a firm price, and you can move on to the next on your list. I’ve seen several therapists in the last 8 to 10 years and all but two were willing to work on a sliding scale plan. The two who weren’t were employed by private Christian offices, which typically have higher fees and fewer insurance options.
Two easy ways to find practicing therapist in your area are the 211 phone number and the Psychology Today online therapist finder. The 211 phone line is an assistance line that helps you locate aid organizations in your area and covers everything from housing assistance to physical and mental health resources. Find out more about that resource here.
The therapist finder on the Psychology Today website is a great resource to start your search off. You can enter your zip code and find a list of certified practicing counselors in your area. You can find all the helpful information you need in each listing, including where they practice, a description of their education and services, what insurance they accept, and if they are willing to operate on a sliding scale payment plan. Here’s a link to my counselor’s Psychology Today profile!
If traditional therapy isn’t something your ready for, but you need to talk to someone immediately, check out IMAlive. The online, chat-based network allows you to reach out to a trained and certified crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day. You don’t have to dial a number or talk to anyone in person. IMAlive originally formed out of a need seen by To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit that helps bring hope and help to those of us who struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide, or addiction. TWLOHA has been responsible for renewing my hope countless times and for encouraging me to reach and get help for my depression all those many years ago.
Please know that you are not alone in your struggle. Please know that it doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad Christian if you seek help, in any form, but especially medication. I know there are some stigmas surrounding mental health in the Christian community, but I need you to know that God did not intend for you to suffer alone. He specifically called many of his children to become counselors or study medication that would help his people continue to live fulfilling lives. Personally, I know that I can not fulfill the calling God has placed on my life to further glorify him if I am not taking care of my mental health by using the resources he has given me access to.