Health And Wellness

The Hidden Forces Keeping People From Getting The Help They Need During America's Mental Health Crisis

Photo: loreanto / shutterstock
women talking emotionally

A recent proprietary survey from YourTango Experts revealed that its members, the majority of whom are licensed therapists, practitioners and professional coaches in the mental health and wellness fields, aspire to help serve more people.

The survey data reflects that practitioner businesses, regardless of specialization, greatly depend upon referrals from their existing clients to grow their client practices. 

How important are these referrals? 97 percent of survey participants noted they are most likely to market their services and acquire new clients via referrals, and 83 percent acknowledged that referrals are “the most effective way to acquire new clients.”

Simply put, practitioner referrals are the bridge to helping more people get the help they need while helping practitioners build enduring businesses. 

Shame and stigma stand in the way of practitioner goals and patient needs 

There’s often an unspoken obstacle standing in the way of people freely discussing or referring others to a preferred psychotherapist or mental health counselor.

That obstacle? The stigma around our mental health, the paralyzing fear of judgment we might receive for bringing up what is perceived as a difficult subject: the state of our psychological and emotional well-being. 

RELATED: No Shame: What You Need To Know About People With Mental Illness

No one is immune to today's mental health challenges

Negative experiences and crises can affect each of us differently, and intensely, at any given stretch in our lives. And the mental health stigma stands in the way of most people sharing their challenges with others and, by extension, being reticent about discussing preferred professional practitioners and healing modalities with their friends, family, and coworkers.

The stigma can lead many of us to quietly bury our pain and conceal any suffering.

For far too many people, not working with a licensed professional or getting the help they need can lead to tragic consequences.

Approximately every 11 minutes in the United States, we lose a fellow human being to suicide, these include our neighbors, friends, and beloved family members, coworkers, military veterans, and members of the broader community.

The suicide rates remain pronounced among young men in their 20s to 40s, as many as four times higher than women, with a sharp rise in suicide attempt rates among teenage girls.

We’re losing too many people, especially younger people, and we’re losing them due to a variety of treatable, if not preventable, mental health conditions.

The loss of lives from suicide is but one contributor to a cocktail of mental health and lifestyle factors causing a measurable decrease in life expectancy for the second consecutive year in the US, from 78.9 years in 2014 to 76.1 years in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As many as one in four people suffer from a mental health challenge during any given week. Media outlets have reported on a variety of negative health data surfacing from the pandemic, much of it related to declines in our mental health, from increased anxiety, loneliness, and social isolation to higher rates of chronic depression, addiction, sleep disorders, and economic distress. 

Many of us suffer from unresolved past trauma, as noted in the popular best-selling works of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Nicole LePera, author of How to Do the Work, and Dr. Gabor Maté, author of The Myth of Normal, among others. Still more of us deal with burnout resulting from life imbalances in the always-on, never-off, work-from-home office culture.

RELATED: Why We Need To Stop Being Scared Of Openly Addressing The Serious Topics

The global health virus changed everything

Unquestionably, the pandemic has changed us and the way we live, and it should surprise no one that nearly 46 percent of the experts surveyed by YourTango saw their practice size increase compared to before the pandemic.

Just over two-thirds of expert members offering counseling or therapy were the most likely to have experienced an increase in the size of their practice. On the other hand, only about one-third or 35 percent of professional coaches were likely to have seen an increase in practice size, according to survey responses. 

Thankfully the worst of the pandemic appears to be in the rearview mirror, but as we emerge from dark times, there’s no denying it: a full-blown mental health crisis remains underway in our country. Add the economic uncertainty and anxiety of a potential recession in 2023 and a shortage of mental health professionals in some regions of the country, and the road ahead looks complicated. 

Demand for mental health practitioners is likely to continue increasing for the foreseeable future, but this does not mean clients will find practitioners and vice versa.

While about a third or 36 percent of expert members reported in the survey that client acquisition was “easier than before the pandemic,” over one-fourth of YourTango Expert members surveyed found marketing to be more difficult and nearly half of all practitioners are still “looking to increase their practice and to find more clients.” 

RELATED: 15 Common Types Of Therapy And How To Know Which You Need

A new, national initiative to deal with mental health

As a nation, and one the world often looks to for leadership, it would behoove us to choose a more proactive, inspired path about how we’re going to solve our mental health problem and deal with the stigma, the fear of even uttering a word about our mental health challenges.

Until we are ready and willing to begin turning to one another for basic support, we can’t turn the tide on the crisis and put more people on a path to confidently speak openly about addressing their challenges. 

We need a new, inspired initiative, community-focused and national in scope, to encourage people to talk about their mental health without fear of judgment. It’s as simple as having the strength and honesty to say, “I’m not doing well, and I think I need to talk to someone.”

And we need to listen when we hear those words — and act.

RELATED: The Most Important Question To Ask To Find The Right Therapist

We all need to normalize mental health talk

Adults, parents, households, teachers and school administrators, church, synagogue, temple and mosque leaders, business owners, managers, front-line workers, veterans, health care providers, police officers, firefighters, first responders, professional athletes, and social media influencers, one and all, we need to unite in the spirit of normalizing conversations about the importance of our mental health.

Not as a separate, isolated part of our overall health, but as a core, authentic reflection of our inner well-being.

Viewed at the macro level, when tens of millions of us open our hearts and minds and courageously come together to convey our inner well-being, we begin to reflect the reality of our health as a nation. Improving it should be a point of national pride.

The toughest part about mental health is to recognize we can’t observe how the people close to us feel on the inside, nor can they see how we feel on the inside, and it only makes sense that we develop a means of sharing our inner selves and declaring how we feel. It starts with introspection and knowing it’s perfectly okay to be honest about where you stand, to not bury your needs if you’re feeling down. 

As the data from YourTango’s survey signals, we must know that it’s even more okay to seek help, ask for help, and get the help you need. It’s the only way we’re going to begin putting ourselves on a path to healing and finding the experts who are looking to help us.

RELATED: Why You Should Never Tell Someone To 'Get Over' Their Mental Illness

Make the choice to seek (or offer) emotional support

In this new year, one thing we can do for one another is to make a conscious choice to talk to our coworkers, friends, and family members who have worked with professionals whether in person or virtually through a platform like BetterHelp, BetterUp or Talkspace.

We can ask about their experiences and inquire if other people in their circles had success via counseling or treatment with a licensed mental health provider. 

The way we can be helpful is by checking in with our friends and family, and regularly asking them how they’re doing, letting them know we’re here to listen, nothing more. If they need any help, we can step up and offer to help them find a provider.

We can do so by asking others in our social circles for recommendations to licensed mental health professionals. Here are a few guidelines for making referrals to a mental health provider (note: it’s worth checking in your state to ensure legal compliance).

RELATED: 10 Signs That Tell You It's Time To Go To Therapy

Here are five ways we can help those in need

1. Ask for help

Spread word in your real-world community and close social circle that you’re trying to help a friend get some professional help from a mental health provider. You might suggest by email, text, or social post: “Hi there, I have a friend in need of a licensed mental health therapist or counselor. Please contact me if you have a recommendation or two.”

2. Collect recommendations and conduct more research

When you receive a few recommendations, you can appraise any specific provider by asking around. Ask your contacts: “If you or someone you trust has had a positive and helpful experience or negative outcome working with a particular provider, please let me know.” 

As the YourTango Expert survey respondents shared, not all expert counselors, coaches and healers are of the same quality or experience level. 

3. Find the right specialists

You’ll want to find the best available practitioners based on the services they provide. This means you’ll need to pinpoint the types of services they specialize in, from EDMR or cognitive behavioral to somatic therapy or any other type of healing modality.

You’ll want to confirm the kind of specialty and number of years of experience the practitioner has before you present your findings and make a referral or recommendation to your friend in need.

4. Communicate your findings 

When you’ve completed the above, you can inform your friend in need that there are two or three professionals who offer specialized services and have strong reviews, and then share the information for how to contact that provider. Your work is nearly complete.

5. Follow up and be present

From here it’s paramount that you show up as a caring, concerned, and supportive person. Keep in touch with your friend in need regularly to make sure they're getting the help they need. 

Someday you might find yourself in a similar type of situation. You may need a helpful referral for yourself.

It might be due to a stressful period of life. The grief from the loss of a loved one, a painful breakup, or divorce. An addiction you’re ready to address. Or to simply help you work through an unfamiliar adversity.

And the friend in need, the person you previously helped, as well as trusted members of your family or social circle just might have a referral to a talented and caring, licensed professional provider who can help you work through your challenges.

The benefits of a referral to the right practitioner can be life-changing. Especially when you need one most. Healers can positively impact your life and help shift your inner health in ways you simply will not understand until you’ve worked with a gifted professional

The recent YourTango Experts survey data makes it clear that referrals, especially from current or past clients, are the best way to help healers heal the people closest to us, the ones who need help most — friends, family members, coworkers, and so forth.

The way out of our mental health crisis

We will remain in a crisis as a nation until we help more people find the courage to talk openly about their psychological and emotional needs and find licensed professionals to deal with their grief, trauma, or everyday stressful challenges and adversities in life. 

Counselors, therapists, coaches and healers of all stripes exist to help us navigate an increasingly uncertain post-COVID world. And if taking care of ourselves and helping those closest to us heal remains important, then helping healers find new clients begins with each one of us doing our part.

By making a referral to a licensed and vetted practitioner, we can help those we care for get the help they need to do their healing work, achieve better mental health outcomes, and lead happier lives.

RELATED: PSA: Your Mental Health Issues Are Not Your Fault

Jonas Koffler is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestselling author. His work has been published in more than 10 languages, and he has written for or been featured in FastCompany, The New York Times, Fortune, Time, Yahoo, Marketplace, Texas Standard, and other NPR programs. He joined YourTango as Senior Director of Product and Brand Innovation in late 2022.

YourTango may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through links featured in this article.