Mental Health Services: An Overview

HCA image for mental health services Mental health disorders, which profoundly disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, moods, ability to relate to others, and capacity for coping with the demands of life, are common throughout the world. Some mental illnesses are severe enough to require treatment as they create problems that prevent those living with mental illness from enjoying their lives.

Even though treatments for mental illnesses today are effective, there are still people with diagnosable mental disorders who do not seek treatment. Stigma surrounding mental health treatment and cost are among the barriers that discourage people from obtaining care.

If individuals with a mental disorder get the treatment they need, especially if it is early, many will fully recover from their disorder or be able to successfully control their symptoms. Below is an overview of mental health services and treatment options available to help you or someone you know with a mental health disorder take action.

Where to Go for Help

Although mental health disorders can be debilitating, there is hope for those who suffer from them. First, it is important to be able to recognize symptoms of mental illness. Some symptoms to look out for are:

  • Confusion or indecisiveness
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Social withdrawal
  • Excessive worry or anger
  • Substance abuse
  • Feelings of depression or anxiety
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Hearing voices in your head
  • Inability to cope with day to day routine
  • Unexplained physical conditions

If you think you might need help, particularly if your feelings and experiences are overwhelming, there are a number of places you can turn to and things you can do to ease the situation.

For information about resources available in your community, a good place to start is The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's mental health services locator, which allows you to find what is available in your state. In addition, you might want to contact your local mental health center. The National Council for Community Behavioral Health Care can help you locate a community mental health center in your area. You can also try an affiliate of a national self-help organization, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the National Empowerment Center, which will tell you about services designed to meet your specific needs.

Your health care provider can also refer you to appropriate resources.

Points to Remember

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income. They are not caused by weakness or lack of character. And yet, stigmatization of people with mental disorders persists. Do not let this stop you from seeking the care you need. The consequences for people with a mental health disorder who fail to obtain treatment include disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, or suicide. The sooner you get help, the sooner you will feel better.

Treatment Options: A Brief Summary

Many mental health conditions can be effectively treated with one or a combination of the therapies listed below.


Psychotherapy, known as talk therapy, is a learning process in which mental health professionals help individuals who have mental health disorders through the exchange of verbal communication. Some types of psychotherapy are:

  • Psychodynamic —The role of the past in shaping the present is emphasized to try to understand a person’s behavior (how people come to act and feel as they do, including the influences of which people are not aware).
  • Behavioral —This type of therapy focuses on the patient's current behavior patterns rather than on early behavior patterns.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy —This is a blend of behavioral therapy and cognitive therapy. It focuses on changing a person's thinking and actions so that they are more adaptive and healthy.
  • Humanistic —Also known as existential, experiential, or Gestalt therapy, humanistic therapy focuses on the immediate experience of the client.

Advances in Technology

The explosive growth of cell phone, tablets, and apps that support them have helped healthcare providers connect with their patients. Technology cannot replace face-to-face contact, but it can be used to enhance and support treatment.

Mobile support can be convenient, anonymous, and provide someone with 24-hour help. However, there are drawbacks. It is not clear how effective apps are in helping people. Others may be concerned about the lack of privacy.

As technology changes and treatment methods follow suit, it is important to think about the best ways you and your doctor can work together. Under the right circumstances, your cell phone or tablet can help you better manage your illness as stressful situations arise.

Pharmacological Therapies

Medications used to treat mental health disorders include:

  • Antipsychotics (neuroleptics)
  • Antidepressants
  • Stimulants
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Anti-anxiety (anxiolytics)

If you need pharmacologic therapy, your doctor will be able to determine which type of medication is right for you. In some severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be used.

Payment Methods

There are many options for payment of mental health services and treatments.

If You Have Private Insurance

Health plans vary in terms of what they cover. Find out what treatments and services your plan covers or shop around if you are in the process of selecting a plan. If you are not satisfied with your mental health benefits, consider talking to your employee benefits manager or union representative to try to improve your coverage.

If You Are Underinsured or Uninsured

There are several resources available to people who do not have health insurance:

  • Public assistance for the uninsured includes:
    • Medicare—a federal insurance program for people 65 years and above and some with disabilities under 65
    • Medicaid—a federal and state insurance program that pays for healthcare for the poorest and most vulnerable Americans
  • Community-based resources—Community mental health centers offer a range of treatment and counseling services. For people without private insurance, they generally require that you are a recipient of public assistance.
  • Pastoral counseling—Your church or synagogue may offer counseling, often on a sliding-scale fee basis.
  • Self-help groups—Groups give people the chance to learn about, talk about, and work on common problems. They are generally free and can be found in most communities.
  • Sliding-scales—Many private practices offer sliding scales, so that individuals with financial need can still seek help. Always ask whether such an arrangement is available.

Asking for Help Is Not Easy

If you feel something is wrong, do not hesitate to ask for help. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it. Chances are, with the right treatments and services, you will be able to control your mental health disorder.


National Institute of Mental Health

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration


Canadian Psychiatric Association

Mental Health Canada


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Technology and the future of mental health treatment. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: Updated February 2017. Accessed February 24, 2017.

Understanding psychotherapy and how it works. American Psycholological Association website. Available at: Accessed February 24, 2017.

Last reviewed February 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 2/24/2017