illustration of mentally confused woman

How to Access Mental Wellness Resources as an Adult

By Georgina To’a Salazar, PhD

This article is part of an ongoing AWIS effort to promote ease of access for support services for members of our community affected by mental health challenges.

When I was about 12 years old, a teacher referred me to a school counselor for what I believe was social anxiety. My parents disapproved of the counseling, so I didn’t continue, and I didn’t use mental wellness resources again until my employers connected me to services when I was a young adult. Now I periodically access mental wellness resources as an employee, and this support continues to improve my performance in professional settings and to brighten my personal life.

My personal experiences have taught me that our moods and behaviors are always fluctuating. In some cases, such changes may interfere with our ability to fulfill responsibilities in our personal and professional lives. When this happens, it is a sign that mental wellness care may be beneficial and may give us the support we need to overcome a struggle. Such a sign may also signal a mental health condition that merits special and immediate attention.

While much attention has been paid to the importance of providing help to vulnerable children and adolescents, particularly with rising depression, anxiety, and suicide rates, we also must provide mental wellness support to adults. Conditions such as depression have been associated with an increased risk for physical disease and with employment disadvantage.

Adults face many challenges in maintaining mental wellness, including difficulty accessing resources. “Among US adults who received mental health services: 17.7 million experienced delays or cancellations in appointments; 7.3 million experienced delays in getting prescriptions; 4.9 million were unable to access needed care,” reports the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Understanding Mental Wellness Needs in Adults

In 2021, an estimated 57.8 million adults in the United States were living with a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, the most common relating to anxiety or depression. Some conditions are more common in women; others are unique to women, such as perinatal depression. A number of factors can affect mental wellness, including trauma, experiences related to other chronic medical conditions like cancer or diabetes, biological factors, use of alcohol or drugs, isolation, and caregiver stress.

Many support services and treatment options can help. However, those who are struggling with a mental wellness issue may face an additional struggle to overcome barriers to access. Such barriers may include:

  • limited awareness of resources
  • inability to pay for resources
  • obstacles of time and distance
  • language and cultural barriers
  • exhaustion navigating the complex process of finding the best match

The first steps to obtaining support on the path to wellness relate to the urgency of the need. Emergency care for an immediate crisis can be accessed through hotlines, including the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and the helpline of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). For extended care, next steps depend on how the patient or caregiver will cover the costs. Financial resources will determine what options are available to clients and the initial process for accessing these options. Subsequently, the person seeking care can use referrals from health-care providers or from others in their community to identify additional options.

Employment- and Government Based Resources

Some employers offer employment assistance programs (EAPs), which provide professional assessments, referrals, or short-term counseling services to employees with alcohol, drug, or mental health problems that may affect their jobs.

Employees who obtain behavioral health-care through EAPs or through job insurance rely on choices made by their employer regarding which health plans are available and how to access this care. For instance, if an employer provides insurance through an HMO, the employee will typically need to get an initial assessment by their primary care physician determining that they will benefit from behavioral health services. Then, secondarily, they will be able to receive an assessment by a specialist and a treatment plan. If an employer provides insurance through a PPO, an employee may start by directly contacting specialists who accept payment through that type of insurance.

In the United States, those who do not have health insurance through an employer can still access health insurance through enrollment in a government program, such as the following:

NAMI’s website features a page discussing these insurance options and the mental wellness resources that they may provide, including summaries of eligibility criteria. Notably, in the United States, there is state-to-state variability in mental health-care options and eligibility criteria.

Categories of Service and the Importance of Getting Care

A variety of behavioral health-care providers and mentalwellness support services offer help to adults. These providers include:

  • Psychiatrists (medical doctors who can prescribe pharmaceutical treatment and provide therapy; MDs or DOs)
  • Psychologists (also offer therapy for significant mental health problems; PhDs)
  • Therapists and counselors (focus on wellness; MS degrees)
  • Social workers (focus on case management and legal issues relevant to housing, family law, rehabilitation; MS and licensed, LICSW)

In addition to consulting with health-care providers, those seeking to improve their mental wellness can participate in educational programs to learn about symptoms, causes, treatments, and other aspects of mental disorders and to become informed about building skills for mental health.

Approaches to mental wellness may also include supplementary strategies, such as engaging the service of coaches, participating in peer support groups, and enrolling in holistic programs that integrate physical wellness. Obstacles of time and distance may be addressed by using technology-based resources: telehealth, apps, and online resources.

I am grateful for the resources I have received to stay well and for having an employer who cared. While some of us have access to such resources, which can truly help us to achieve a better quality of life, we must continue to push to ensure that such care is available to everyone.

Exploring options for mental health treatment can be difficult and confusing. Still, mental wellness is important for adults so that we can be our best for our families, our communities, and our world. Open communication about mental wellness can help ensure that it becomes part of routine health-care, so that we can use tools to recover early and avert crises.

Read related AWIS articles on mental wellness:

Georgina To’a Salazar, PhDGeorgina To’a Salazar, PhD, works to create innovative solutions in science communication, research, and policy. With a BS in chemical engineering from Stanford University and a PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of California, Irvine, Dr. Salazar has fulfilled her dream of exploring the world, having taken research positions in Singapore and Japan before returning to the United States to focus on science communication. She is currently at Takara Bio USA, Inc.

This article was originally published in AWIS Magazine. Join AWIS to access the full issue of AWIS Magazine and more member benefits.