Winter 2003

Delays in mental health care - how to avoid them

The use of mental health professionals has increased dramatically as we recognize that we need help with life stresses. Mental health is losing some of its stigma, with television and movies frequently depicting individuals with mental illness who lead productive lives.

When we need the help of a mental health professional, however, we don't want to wait months for service.

Jean's 13 year-old son, Harry, was failing in school, and she discovered he was using marijuana. She wanted to get him help quickly.

She called her insurance company and was given the name of a psychiatrist at a well-known mental health facility. The first available appointment was in 5 weeks. Jean was not happy with the delay but was relieved to have an appointment.

At the appointment, Harry was diagnosed with depression and prescribed an antidepressant medication. A few weeks later, Harry, still having difficulty, ran away from home. Jean was frantic and called the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist returned her call 10 days later!

She called her insurance company and asked for another provider who was more available. Her insurance company found a psychiatrist who could see Harry immediately and was available when needed.

Jean did not realize that she did not have to wait 5 weeks for help. She could have insisted that the insurance company find her a provider with an earlier appointment. Mental health problems need to be addressed early because they can escalate suddenly. This is a very stressful time for parents, and they should be able to get intervention started quickly.

Ask some key questions of your insurance company:

  • How soon will this provider be available for an appointment?
  • What do I do if the provider is not meeting my needs?

If you are not satisfied with the answers from your insurance provider, talk to the benefits coordinator at your job. Employers are paying increasingly high rates for health insurance, and they expect timely service from providers.

Find more information about depression and drug abuse at these government web sites:

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Last Updated May 2003
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