Severe mental illnesses including bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia are treatable brain conditions that often improve with treatment.
However, identifying treatment options available to you or a loved one can be challenging. Options vary significantly between states and communities. Similar services go by different names in different locations, complicating Internet searches. Diagnosis and psychiatric history, residency, insurance coverage, personal income and assets, hospital policies, civil commitment laws, and many other variables come into play. In many cases, services may not be well-advertised. Considerable legwork almost certainly will be required.
Be relentless. Knock on doors, ring telephones, ask questions, Google terms until you get the information you need. Equip yourself for questions by developing a CARE Kit and/or obtaining a copy of relevant medical records. Persistence pays off. If one door is shut, try another.
Use these resources to get started:
- Professionals currently managing the person’s care. This includes psychiatrists and other physicians, mental health professionals, or any mental health professional already involved. Because each specialist will be most familiar with his/her own specialty, view these providers as a first stop, not a final one.
- Local or state NAMI officials and members. Local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) affiliates include family members and consumers who may already be familiar with treatment options where you live and who are likely to be eager to help you. Click here to find your nearest affiliate. If there is no chapter near you, the central office in your state may be able to help.
- Government agencies. The Department of Mental Health, police or sheriff's department, county clerk in the courthouse where civil commitment proceedings are held, and any other official, organization or department that is officially involved with people who have severe mental illness will be familiar with at least some of the local treatment options.
- Our website. Civil commitment is a process used in every state to provide treatment to people in a mental illness crisis. For a general overview of this process, click on Know the Laws in Your State. Click on "State Standards for Assisted Treatment" to learn about laws in your own state. Use the state map on this page to learn more about mental health in your state.
- Visits and interviews. If the treatment option you are considering involves an inpatient or outpatient facility, whether public or private, schedule a tour of the property and an interview with whomever supervises patient care.
Investigate eligibility requirements:
- Ask for written policies governing eligibility. Some agencies and facilities will have eligibility standards that must be met before services are provided. Find out what those standards are. Ask if they provide need-based assistance with payment, if applicable. Request applications.
- Always assume eligibility and apply for services unless rejection is absolutely beyond doubt, e.g., income is above an income ceiling.
- Never take the first “No” for an answer. Whether rejection comes from a public or private provider or insurance company, ask how you can appeal a rejection. Follow the procedures exactly. Providers can only say “No” again. And they may say “Yes.”
- Contact a lawyer, your local Legal Aid Society, a disability rights organization, or another advocate if you continue to get rejections. Sometimes professionals can break through barriers you can’t.
Download our flyer, “Eliminating Barriers to Treatment – Tips for Breaking Through” for additional recommendations.