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Health & Wellness: 4 things to look for in a good behavioral health program

By Doug Fox - Special to the Daily Herald | Apr 3, 2024

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When experiencing mental health distress, deciding to seek help is the first step. But to maximize results, there are some important questions to consider.

Many are likely unaware of just how prevalent mental health issues are today in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental illnesses are, in fact, among the most common health issues presently facing Americans.

To bolster those assertions, the CDC reports the following statistics for the U.S.:

  • Over 1 in 5 adults live with a mental illness.
  • Over 1 in 5 youths ages 13-18 currently have or at some point in their life have had a debilitating mental illness.
  • Around 1 in 25 adults live with a serious mental illness (including bipolar disease, major depression or schizophrenia).

With mental illness impacting the lives of so many Americans, it’s not only important that people receive proper treatment but also that they go to those places that can best offer it. When choosing the best behavioral health programs, people should study up on a program’s specific specialties and services, ask the right questions before beginning treatment, confirm insurance coverage options and follow up on other important care factors.

Study specialties and services

You wouldn’t go to a podiatrist to get treatment for a heart condition. Likewise, before you sign up with any individual mental health program, it’s important to ascertain they have specialists on staff who work in your specific area of need.

Most providers of mental health treat a variety of conditions, but sometimes patients need diagnosis and treatment that is more specialized.

“When choosing a behavioral health clinic, it’s important to verify in advance the type of psychiatric and psychological services that will be available on-site,” said Dr. Marsha Chinichian, clinical director of behavioral health at Generations Healthcare. “These specialists will be helping the patients navigate their mental health needs, so you will want to make sure they have the requisite background along with evidence-based treatment practices that address your individual needs or those of your loved one.”

Generally speaking, the severity of your symptoms and complexity of your diagnosis will help determine the level of expertise and training you may require in choosing a mental health provider.

Ask the right questions

Doing your due diligence in advance will go a long way toward choosing the right behavioral health program for you.

According to the Mayo Clinic, before signing up for a specific program, mental health patients should think about the following issues:

  • The education, training, licensing and years in practice of the professionals offering service. Take note that licensing requirements vary by state.
  • The areas a provider specializes in and the services they offer.
  • The treatment approaches and philosophy of the behavioral health program.
  • The office hours, fees and length of sessions.

Checking out these important factors will help you determine which situation is the best fit and the most likely to help you or your loved one get the necessary treatment.

Answer insurance questions

As anyone who has ever changed employers readily recognizes, health insurance plans can vary greatly, not only in what they cover but also in the percentage of coverage, required out-of-pocket deductibles, etc. When it comes to the overall well-being of an individual, mental health is on par with physical health in terms of importance, with laws addressing insurance disparity between the two services.

Passed in 2008, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act requires services coverage for mental health, behavioral health and substance-use disorders to be comparable to physical health coverage. The federal law generally applies to employer-sponsored health coverage (for companies with 50 or more employees), coverages purchased through health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and most Medicaid programs.

Encouragingly, it appears those legal efforts are working. According to a 2022 poll conducted by AHIP, an overwhelming majority of respondents said they were satisfied with their mental health coverage.

The poll also found the following:

  • Three in four insured Americans (73%) said they found it easy to get the mental health support they needed. In addition, 32% reported that finding care was “very easy,” with only 6% reporting that finding care was “very difficult.”
  • Nine in 10 (91%) reported satisfaction with the mental health support they received, with half (49%) saying they were very satisfied.
  • Four in 10 insured Americans (38%) were able to find a mental health professional and start getting support within a week or two, while another 3 in 10 (29%) were able to begin receiving help within 30 days. One in 10 (11%) needed to wait six months or more, while 4% sought care but never received it.
  • Six in 10 insured Americans (60%) said their mental health support was fully covered by insurance, while another 3 in 10 (33%) noted that their mental health support was partially covered. Only 3% reported their care was not covered.
  • Individual counseling or therapy in a health care professional’s office was the most frequently used service (56%). Counseling or therapy through telehealth was second (38%).

If you have questions about what your insurance plan covers in the mental health realm, consult with your HR representative or insurance provider.

Other consideration factors

There are several other elements that bear checking out before you make the decision to check in to a specific facility or program.

Familial support plays a huge role in positive mental health outcomes. See if your preferred programs offer opportunities for family therapy and education, as well as support for caregivers and loved ones. Patients will benefit from a supportive environment and a safe and welcoming atmosphere.

Look for a behavioral health program that believes in an individualized treatment plan with an approach tailored to assessment findings and clear, achievable target goals with flexibility to adapt the plan according to your progress.

You should also search for a program that offers ongoing monitoring and follow-up, as well as support for transitions between different levels of care.

Recognizing the need for behavioral health care is a big step. When choosing which program is the best fit, be sure to consider each program’s specialties, ask the questions that will get you the information you need to make the best decision, confirm your insurance treatment options and consider additional program options.

Doug Fox is a project manager at Fullcast, a Silicon Slopes-based end-to-end RevOps platform that allows companies to design, manage and track the performance of their revenue-generating teams.


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