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Take charge of your mental health

February 6, 2018

Most of us aim to lead productive, fulfilling lives. But sometimes mental illness can make it hard to do that. If you are living with a mental health condition, you are not alone.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in six U.S. adults is living with a mental illness, but only about 40% of them received mental health services in the past year. And depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), symptoms can include: 

  • excessive worrying or fear,
  • feeling excessively sad or low,
  • confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning,
  • extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria,
  • prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger,
  • changes in sleeping habits, eating habits or sex drive,
  • abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs,
  • multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”) and
  • thinking about suicide.
The good news is that people can learn to manage their symptoms.

Your health insurance plan covers mental health care, such as visits to mental health care professionals and prescription medication. Psychologists, psychiatrists and other counseling professionals are part of every plan’s network. However, medication can only be prescribed by a physician, such as a psychiatrist your primary care physician, or a medical professional under a physician’s “delegation of prescriptive authority.”

You may want to visit first with your primary care provider (PCP) or ask your PCP for a recommendation, but you do not need a PCP referral to see a mental health specialist. Mental health care often involves a series of regular visits over a period of weeks or months, so choosing an in-network provider will get you the best level of coverage and save you money. To find a provider in your plan’s network, call the number on your insurance card or visit your plan’s website.

If you need to see someone right away and are facing a long wait for your first visit, be sure to let the provider or your insurance plan know, so they can assist you in getting care sooner.

NAMI offers these tips to make the most of your appointment:
  • be ready to talk about your health history and what you’re experiencing,
  • be clear about your goal for treatment and what improvement you would like to see and
  • ask your doctor or mental health specialist to explain treatment options so you understand the plan, and what you need to do.
Ask questions, such as:
  • If I have thoughts that scare me, what should I do?
  • How often should we meet and what should I do between appointments if I need help?
  • Will I need to take medication? What does it help with? What are the side effects?
  • How long will it take me to feel better--a few days, weeks or months?
If you reach a point that you can’t work because of your mental health and are enrolled in the Texas Income Protection Plan (TIPP), you may qualify for disability benefits. Read your TIPP Master Benefit Plan Document to learn about time limits on long-term disability payments if your disability results from alcohol, drug or substance abuse or addiction, or nervous or mental conditions.

Other resources:

  • If your employer offers an employee assistance program (EAP), you may have access to confidential services at low or no cost, including counseling sessions and crisis services. Ask your benefits coordinator or HR department for more information. (Please note: ERS does not administer EAPs for agencies or institutions.)
  • The Texas Health and Human Services Office of Mental Health Coordination provides a wide-range of resources related to mental health at https://mentalhealthtx.org.
  • NAMI provides free support, resources and education for those living with mental illness or who have a loved one living with mental illness. Learn more at https://www.nami.org/ or by calling (800) 950-6264.
  • The National Institute on Mental Health provides free information on mental health at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/index.shtml.

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