Mental Health - Help is Available

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Mental Health - Help is Available

Mental Health

Mental Health

Help is Available

The belief that only individuals with mental illness need, or benefit from, counseling is a myth.

Life produces many challenges - changes, losses and different degrees of stress. Counseling, therapy and other forms of mental health assistance can help prevent small problems from becoming larger as well as give you new skills to cope.

The crucial question becomes: where do you turn for help? Too often seniors do not know the answer or, if they do know where to find help, are reluctant to seek it.

Admitting there is a problem - and taking appropriate action - is half the battle. The other half is receiving professional attention and guidance in order to attain problem resolution and restoration to what should be the happiest time of our lives.

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Mental Illness
Common Mental Illnesses
Mental Illnesses are Recognizable
A Message of Hope
Getting Help
Support Groups and Self-Help Groups
Mental Health Resources
Mental Illness

Mental illness is a term used to describe a broad range of mental or emotional problems that seriously interfere with the way a person is able to live his or her life.

It is not - as many people still believe today - the result of personal weakness or a bad upbringing. Like almost all health problems, mental illnesses are believed to stem from a combination of causes:

  • Biological factors
  • Psychological factors
  • Social factors

Common Mental Illnesses

More than 200 different forms of mental illness are classified in modern medicine and each affects individuals differently.

Some of the more common forms of mental illness include:

  • Depression and Manic Depression
  • Dementia
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Serious Emotional Disturbance

Mental Illnesses are Recognizable

Symptoms of mental illnesses generally present themselves in a person's behavior and personal habits. Some change in mood, eating/sleeping habits and personality are common for everyone over the course of life, but when they become frequent or last for several weeks, such symptoms may be the first signs of something more serious.

A Message of Hope

Recent advances in our understanding of how the mind and body interact make it possible to treat mental illnesses more successfully than ever before. Just remember that help is available. Here are some suggestions for finding help:

  • Call your local Area Agency on Aging.
  • Ask you physician or health care provider for referrals.
  • If you're affiliated with an HMO, call customer service.
  • Talk with friends or family.
  • Find out from your insurance company what mental health services are covered.
  • Call the Medicare hotline at 800/638-6833 (web site: for a list of participating mental health services in your area.
  • Look in the phone book under "Mental Health Services" for local referrals.

Getting Help

Start your path to recovery by finding a professional whom you have confidence in and who will best meet your special needs. Interview any prospective therapists; ask about credentials and background in dealing with the type of problem you're facing.

Following are descriptions of various mental health professionals available today.

  • Clinical Psychologists - have a doctoral degree in psychology plus two years of supervised clinical training. They work in the areas of personality assessment - and prevention and treatment of emotional and mental disorders. They work with individuals, groups or families. They are state licensed as counselors and provide psychotherapy and counseling for families, couples, groups and individuals. Call the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy for local referrals, 202/452-0109
  • Pastoral Counselors - have special training in psychology or social work which can be an effective source of inexpensive counseling.
  • Psychiatric Nurses - are registered, professional nurses who have received advanced academic and professional preparation at the Masters Degree level or above. Most practice in hospitals, community mental health centers and other agencies.
  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers - are trained in a wide range of mental health roles. They provide individual, group, family, child, marital and adolescent therapy. They practice in a variety of settings including: family service agencies, HMOs, hospitals, mental health clinics, regional health centers and ambulatory care centers.
  • Psychiatrists - are medical doctors who specialize in treating people with mental or emotional disorders. The American Psychiatric Association can provide referrals to local psychiatrists, 202/682-6220.

Support Groups and Self-Help Groups

For many human problems, there are no easy answers or easy cures. Even after the best professional help has been obtained, a person may be left with difficulties too great to handle alone.

An example of this would be when someone has lost a spouse. In this situation, many people have found comfort and hope in "support or self-help groups." Within these groups, members share common concerns, and are offered an important aid to recovery - the understanding and help of others who have faced similar experiences.

Life deals everyone emotional ups and downs. Friends and family usually provide much needed support. But the words: "I've been there, I do know how you feel," form a special bond among individuals sharing similar concerns.

In addition to open discussion sessions where group members share feelings and talk about their progress, some groups also have planned educational sessions. Such groups can have facilitators who are professionals and have the expertise to provide vital resources and answer questions.

Support groups and self-help groups are a great comfort to many people - they remind you that you're not alone.

Following are two resources for obtaining information on self-help groups.

National Self-Help Clearinghouse
Web site:
This clearinghouse provides information on self-help groups throughout the country.

California Self-Help and Recovery Exchange
The clearinghouse serves as an information and referral service, providing information to the public about self-care and self-help groups throughout the state.

Mental Health Resources

Eldercare Locator
Web site:
Nationwide directory-assistance service designed to locate local support resources for older Americans. Ask the specialists for the phone number of the "Older Adult Services" in your community.

National Mental Health Association
888/836-6070 (recorded topics)
Web site:
Provides free mental health referrals, publications and information on mental health issues.

Veterans Services
Web site:
Provides a wide variety of information on veterans' benefits.

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Congress of California Seniors
1230 N Street, #201
Sacramento, CA 95814
(800) 543-3352
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