A Crisis of Trust | Three Critical Considerations When Navigating Behavioral Health

If you’ve had the daunting task of locating and accessing mental health treatment for yourself or a loved one, you likely have first-hand knowledge of the challenges posed by finding effective, client-centered, dignified resources.

While the digital era provides resources to research and derive expansive information on virtually anything, some consumers have negative experiences searching for mental health support. The web has indeed allowed some companies and organizations to mislead consumers about what they offer/promise to deliver.

How does someone unfamiliar with what’s available begin to search for help, then decide with which provider/organization to pursue treatment? In many cases, consumers and/or their loved ones are in crisis, disrupting typical problem-solving skills. How does one traverse the treatment terrain and discern what is the best fit?

Three key elements to keep in your behavioral health backpack:
Support, questions, and perspective

  1. Rally support. Gather support (emotional, physical, educational, spiritual) where you can — from friends or contacts working/volunteering in the mental health field. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also offer a plethora of educational tools and supportive resources.
  2. Ask. Be prepared with specific questions regarding the prospective client’s needs — the organization’s location, licensing details, staff credentials, background, history, ownership, philanthropic commitments, employee turnover rate, cost. Ask about treatment modalities and customization, length of stay, what fees include and the importance of family support. Ask the same questions of each provider and take notes or consider recording conversations (with permission) to compare and contrast findings.
  3. Keep your perspective. Remember that treatment is a collaboration of equal partners — client and provider — with the same goal: creating the best version of oneself. Questions can provide a strong sense of ideology, internal culture and how an organization views its partnership with clients. For example, “Do you encourage clients to make decisions about their medications?” or “What is your response if a client is having trouble making it to appointments?” Understanding how staff manage a crisis is indicative of overall philosophy. Ask about on-call schedules and staffing, protocols and procedures. Note the language used by admissions and other staff you speak with — is it compassionate, professional? This provides insight into organizational culture.

 A few side notes:

  • Many consumers ask about outcomes, which can be very helpful as one conducts evaluations. Keep in mind that outcomes are indicative of care, but cannot necessarily be compared between organizations unless the exact same treatments and measures are utilized.
  • Online reviews/testimonials and phone references are valuable, but it is advised consumers not weigh testimonials and reviews too heavily (good, bad or indifferent) as every experience is unique.
  • Be cognizant of staff who quickly/easily/comfortably speak disparagingly of other programs. This is an indicator of an organization’s ethical compass. Even when asked what differentiates them from other programs, staff are not required to speak about them. Professionals speaking poorly of others should raise red flags.

Always remember this is you or your loved one’s healthcare experience — no one else’s. No one knows your needs and wants like you do. Well intentioned, caring people may inundate you with information and advice. If possible, take time to process, digest and align organizational values with your own. There is indeed an ideal fit for everyone.

We’d Love to Hear From You. We would like to hear your experience in behavioral healthcare — in receiving/providing services or assisting a loved one seeking treatment. To share your story, Melissa Westerman can be reached at mwesterman@ellenhorn.com.

Melissa Westerman has worked and volunteered in behavioral health since 1996, in direct care, admissions and outreach. She is an advocate and community educator striving to help families access resources while eradicating the stigma that accompanies behavioral health issues. She is a strategic manager of clinical outreach at Ellenhorn.

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