Your No-Panic Guide To Mental Health Help During The Pandemic

(Daniel Barreto via Unsplash)

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These are strange and stressful times.

As Los Angeles takes steps to recover from the historic and hellish introduction of COVID-19, we're faced with the reality that thousands of loved ones have died, millions of livelihoods have been decimated, and it's not over.

In this uncertainty, we are left to rebuild in a barely-recognizable metropolis, after mass unemployment, months of limited to no contact with others, and deadly illness.

Under extreme change, extreme grief and isolation, and an extremely real threat to our health, experts worry that the next pandemic will be a mental health one.

The virus has frozen daily life, and in doing so, it's taken away so many comforts and coping strategies that we would otherwise lean on in times of distress.

But support is out there. We put together a guide of local resources to help you find it.

If you or someone you know needs help or someone to talk to, please reach out to the organizations and professionals below until you find some relief.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I NEED HELP?

This isn't an easy question to answer because it's different for everyone. But there are some objective measures.

Things to look out for:

  • Are you losing concentration?
  • Are your personal relationships suffering?
  • Are you having difficulties with productivity at home or at work?
  • Are you having trouble sleeping?
  • Are you eating too much or too little?
  • Are you using substances too much to a point where it's a concern for you?

"If you feel distressed some of the time, some of the days, you're probably with the majority of people, period," Dr. Emanuel Maidenberg, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, told us. But he said if you start feeling distress for most of the day, for most of the week, and if those feelings of anxiety or sadness persist for a week or two, it could be time to reach out for help.

"If you're not feeling well, you should reach out to someone, particularly when it gets to the point where this is affecting the quality of your life," said Dr. Jorge Partida Del Toro, chief of psychology at the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

MAYBE I JUST NEED SOME TIPS FOR MANAGING STRESS

It's totally possible. Here you go:

WHAT IF I'M JUST NOT READY TO TRY THERAPY?

That's OK. The L.A.-based mental health startup Frame hosts digital workshops, led by licensed therapists, "for people who aren't ready to try therapy," said the company's CEO Kendall Bird.

"It's a way for people around the country — and specifically in Los Angeles — to get a sense of what therapy could be like for them, to have a better understanding of what you can talk about in therapy and also to learn that there are really different styles of therapists," she said.

OK, I WANT TO REACH OUT FOR HELP. WHERE DO I START?

If you have health coverage, the best place to start your search for mental health services is your insurance provider. Your insurance company can give you a list of in-network mental health service providers.

But, if you're like many people and either your insurance doesn't cover the services you need or you have a high deductible, you might be on your own to find a therapist or counselor who is right for you (and your budget).

"I feel weird saying 'go to the internet' to look for it,'" Dr. Tonya Wood, president of the California Psychological Association, told us. "But that really is, I think, the best first place."

ONLINE 'THERAPIST MATCHING,' OPTIONS

These are real, but have ... varying degrees of user-friendliness.

HOW DO I EVEN KNOW WHAT TYPE OF A THERAPIST/THERAPY IS RIGHT FOR ME?

It's always a good idea to check to see if your potential therapist has their licensing in good standing. You can check that out here.

Dr. Wood suggests asking a potential therapist about their approach to mental health, counseling and psychotherapy,

Especially during the pandemic, you should also ask about telehealth and video conferencing sessions.

"I think so much of it is about the relationship and the level of comfort that you feel with the individual," Wood said.

Sometimes therapists will offer a short free phone consult. Take it. You can often get a good sense about them. And the more intro calls you have, the easier it is to identify the things that make you feel comfortable.

If you find a therapist and it doesn't feel like a good fit, then it's not a good fit. Therapy naturally comes with some uncomfortable moments, but you should feel comfortable, safe, heard, and understood by your therapist. If you don't, find another one.

THIS IS OVERWHELMING. IS IT OK TO JUST ASK MY FRIENDS OR FAMILY FOR RECOMMENDATIONS?

100%. Sometimes a personal referral/endorsement is a great way to find a therapist.

WHAT IF I CAN'T AFFORD A PRIVATE THERAPIST?

Call the L.A. County Department of Mental Health's Helpline at (800) 854-7771. It's open 24/7 and is the entry point for mental health services provided by the county. It's a very good place to start if you want help but the thought of paying for that help is contributing to your stress level.

"We strongly believe that anybody that needs help should be able to get it, regardless of their ability to pay for the service," said Dr. Del Toro. "We also provide services to anyone regardless of their legal status and I think that's also something very important for our large immigrant community to understand."

If you're in emotional or psychological distress, you can call the Department of Mental Health's helpline and speak with a clinician who will evaluate your needs and provide support, resources and referrals. "By law, you can't have somebody waiting more than 10 days to receive care," said Del Toro.

Here are some additional ideas/resources:

"Sliding scale"
Ask about it, Many mental health professionals will take your income level into consideration when setting their fee. Some will also offer a discounted rate depending on what time of day/week you can schedule your session.

College-based mental health clinics
Several colleges and universities in the L.A. area run low-cost clinics where psychology students offer high-quality services.

Frontline worker help
There are free mental health services for pandemic frontline workers. If you're a doctor, nurse, paramedic, or other frontline worker, you can sign up on this website. If you run into technical issues on the signup page, email: community@covid19counselingca.org

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Call the hotline at (800) 950-6264 Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Operators can provide information about mental illness and refer callers to treatment, support groups and legal support, if needed.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Call (800) 662-4357. SAMHSA runs a 24/7 mental health hotline that provides education, support, and connections to treatment. It also offers an online Behavioral Health Treatment Locator to help you find suitable behavioral health treatment programs.

For kids
Los Angeles Unified School District has has opened up a mental health hotline connecting callers dealing with "fear, anxiety and other challenges related to COVID-19" to the district's Crisis Counseling and Intervention Services Unit. Call the hotline at (213) 241-3840 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to speak to someone in English or Spanish.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Call (866) 615-6464. This organization has a variety of methods for you to communicate with knowledgeable people about mental health issues. In addition to the phone line, there's a live online chat option. These resources are available Monday-Friday, 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Steinberg Institute
The organization, which works to improve mental health legislation in California, has an extensive list of mental health resources and related care.

Institute on Aging's 24/7 Friendship Line
Call (800) 971-0016. This organization focuses on people over 60 and adults with disabilities. It describes itself as "both a crisis intervention hotline and a warmline for non-emergency emotional support calls."

I'M IN CRISIS AND NEED HELP RIGHT NOW

Here are the options.

Lisa Brenner contributed to this guide.