As families prepare for the holiday season with a renewed sense of joy, gratitude and excitement, we should remember that the holidays can be a difficult time for those who have suffered the loss of loved ones, family estrangement, illness, or financial hardship. With a shortage of therapists and long waiting lists for appointments, finding mental health care may be challenging but persistence, flexibility, and a little creativity can help connect patients with mental health services and support during stressful, lonely or anxious times.
A recent article in The Washington Post shared the advice 300 mental health providers offer patients for finding help or helping themselves while waiting to see a counsellor. Experts recommend researching therapists or counsellors who specialize in particular issues such as depression or anxiety and finding out if they take your insurance and are accepting new clients as a first step. Many clinics ask for detailed intake forms to help match a therapist with a patient – filling these out thoroughly will help smooth the process when you are able to get an appointment. Group practices may be able to fit new patients in sooner than individual therapists and insurance providers may be able to help in the search for treatment if patients are having difficulty finding a care provider.
Being flexible with scheduling can also help secure an appointment sooner – after-hours, lunchtime, weekend or telehealth bookings may be easier to attain. Colleges and universities are great resources, not only for students and staff but also for the general public to seek out counsellors in training who may be able to offer services under the supervision of a licensed professional. Health and wellness coaches may also be a good alternative when a therapist is not immediately available – look for one that belongs to a recognized organization like the International Coaching Federation.
Support groups can also be a wonderful source of comfort and validation that help people feel less alone with their grief, depression, anxiety or substance abuse problems. Faith groups and other social and cultural networks can also help people feel more connected with others and less isolated.
Mental health apps like Talkspace can also help patients learn coping skills and therapeutic tools while waiting for a counselling appointment. And there are always self-help books, TED talks, and podcasts to discover; look for books, classes, and talks that are created by licensed therapists and based on science rather than personal experience. Self-care is also important in promoting mental health. Stress-reducing activities like outdoor exercise or meditation, a healthy diet and good sleep habits can significantly improve overall well-being.
Anyone who is struggling with thoughts of self-harm can access immediate help by calling 9-8-8 in the United States or by dialling 1-833-456-4566 toll-free in Canada for crisis care.