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Although embarking on a new healthcare journey can be as simple as placing a phone call, accessing some types of care isn’t always as easy as it seems.

When it comes to behavioral healthcare, for example, some patients face barriers, according to MetroHealth’s Jodi Finney, MSN, RN, CPHQ, Director of Nursing – Behavioral Health.

Behavioral health services include medication management, counseling and therapy and treatment for substance use disorders. Care is available for a variety of health issues, such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia.

Potential barriers to accessing behavioral health services, Finney said, are stigma, denial or even shame. Also, some patients face challenges like the lack of a primary care provider to make a referral or insurance.

So what’s the first step for patients and their loved ones? Finney said it’s finding supportive people in your life and being that supportive person for others. At the same time, reflect on and recognize your own thoughts, feelings, and perceived stigmas about behavioral healthcare like therapy or treatment.

“Make it OK not to feel OK,” she said. “In the case of a loved one, approach the conversation with empathy and go to a place of wanting to listen. Recognize that you are not alone, and everyone is touched with behavioral health concerns, whether it’s you personally, or a family member or friend.”

Once you or a loved one has decided to seek help, proceed in a manner appropriate with the level of crisis being experienced.

“If they’re actively having thoughts of harming themselves, they should immediately go to an ER or call the suicide hotline (988),” Finney said. “If it’s less immediate, but you recognize that you’ve been feeling depressed or not enjoying life the way you should be, reach out to your primary care doctor for a referral.”

Once someone begins behavioral health treatment, it’s important to remember the importance of establishing trust early with the care provider, which may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse, counselor, or social worker.

“They’ll ask questions about your history, similar to when you go to an annual physical, current areas of concern, and what you’re looking to get out of your treatment, and then set the course for treatment,” she said.

Treatment may mean an inpatient program for a person with an acute mental health disorder that requires around-the-clock care, or it could be an outpatient program for someone who can continue to work and live at home while they access care.

Regardless of the course of treatment, Finney emphasizes the need for patients and families to avoid stigmas surrounding behavioral healthcare and prioritize mental health as much as physical health — as soon as symptoms arise.

“If you have a broken arm, you wouldn’t wait to get it treated,” she said. “It’s OK to get help for a broken arm and OK to get help if you’re depressed. Your mental health is just as important as physical health.”

To learn more about mental health services, including the new MetroHealth Cleveland Heights Behavioral Health Hospital, schedule an assessment.