Monday, July 19, 2010

Getting Help: How to Start the Conversation and Find Professional Services

By Felicia Wong, M.D.

Many people don’t seek mental health care when they need it. This is particularly true for members of ethnic minorities, for whom physical illness is often considered more culturally acceptable than mental illness. Research has shown, for example, that Asian Americans are three times less likely than members of other ethnic groups to seek mental health services. This has more to do with lack of appropriate services, and barriers to services—including stigma, language and cultural differences—rather than the lack of need for services.
The important thing to remember is that with proper treatment, most symptoms of mental illness can be controlled. If the possibility of mental illness is a concern for you or someone you care about, please recognize there is no shame in seeking treatment and/or help.

Over the years, many people have asked me how to get help for themselves, a family member or a friend who is suffering. Navigating the mental health system is not easy, and the stigma and shame associated with mental illness make it even more difficult. Where someone may find it easy to ask a friend to recommend a family doctor or a dentist, people sometimes hesitate to ask about psychiatrists or therapists due to fears of being judged, or perhaps appearing "emotionally weak".

There are many places to go for help. A good place to start is by asking your family doctor or primary care doctor. In a crisis, emergency rooms can provide temporary relief for you or a loved one, and emergency room personnel may be able to guide you to further help.

Other potential resources include:
  • mental health specialists such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers or mental health counselors;
  • community mental health centers;
  • hospital psychiatry departments, outpatient clinics and/or inpatient units;
  • family services, social agencies, or clergy;
  • peer support groups;
  • private clinics and facilities;
  • employee assistance program; or
  • the phone book or web - search "mental health," "health," "social services," "hotlines," or "physicians" for phone numbers and addresses.

For more information on how to find and choose a psychiatrist and what to expect in treatment, read about Choosing a Psychiatrist on,

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Comments are reviewed before posting, and comments that include profanity or other inappropriate material will not be posted. The comment section is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional medical advice. All decisions about clinical care should be made in consultation with your treating physician. If you need help with a mental health issue, please visit our resource page.