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Emotional issues, stress, and substance misuse are more common than you think.

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Hear what we've learned

  • Stat

    1 in 5 CT Residents will
    experience a mental health
    problem in any given year.

  • Stat

    With treatment 70 - 90% of people
    have a significantly improved
    quality of life.

  • Stat

    14.6% of CT high schoolers
    had serious thoughts of
    suicide in the past year.

  • Stat

    10.3% of CT 12-17 year olds
    reported using drugs recently.

  • Stat

    1 out of 4 CT college-aged students
    experienced major psychological
    distress in the past year.

  • Stat

    46.5% of US college students felt
    hopeless for two weeks or more.

  • Stat

    26.5% of CT residents age 12 and
    up report binge drinking-having 5
    or more drinks at a time.

  • Stat

    1 in 4 CT highschoolers felt sad
    or hopeless for two weeks or
    more in the past year.

  • Stat

    8.9% of CT highschoolers report not
    eating for 24 hours of more because
    of body image issues.

  • What are my options for feeling better?

    You’ve got lots of options to choose from!

  • Advocacy

    Don’t like the way the media looks at people with mental illness and addiction?  Don’t like legislation that punish help-seeking behavior. Think it’s wrong that people with mental illness are criminalized. Do you feel an atmosphere of fear is being promoted?  Speak up!  There are many opportunities to advocate for better care and a more positive image of people like us.

    Your story matters. Not everyone feel comfortable sharing theirs, which is okay! But if you would like to share your experience and want to change the way people look at stuff like this, you can! Advocacy is really important. Your voice can help continue to change things!

    Watch our other Recovery Poetry Videos

  • Detox & Crisis Intervention

    Sometimes the best way to start is with a short-term live-in program at a detox center or a psychiatric inpatient facility, which is important in crisis intervention. They can get you stable and help you figure out what kind of help you need for the immediate future.

    In CT, you can call 211 for free 24/7 to talk to a crisis counselor, find a Mobile Crisis team that can come to you to assess you and help you as well as helping you to find out about Detox or Inpatient programs near you.

    Need help now? Here are a few more options.

    What To Expect At A Psych or Detox Unit

  • Wellness

    Are you just like a lot of us, someone who’s careless? Lazy? Or maybe you’re someone who has “more important things to do” so you put yourself as a last priority? Taking care of yourself both mentally and physically, should be something that should be made your first and favorite priority. It’s a practice that can improve how you deal with life.

    Instead of looking at illness and symptoms, wellness focuses on personal strengths and pursuing healthy behaviors. There is no one-size-fits-all path to recovery.  What works for one person might not work for another.  Your recovery depends on your unique needs, desires, and ideas about life and wellness.

    “I have always loved to write, and there is something cathartic about being able to see emotions that seem so ugly in my head transform into something beautiful and relatable to others.”

    Wellness includes holistic and alternative methods like yoga, exercise, meditation, art, journaling, healthy eating and more.

    “Yoga has taught me to love and appreciate the body I used to hate so much.”

    Check out these simple and positive tips to get started.

    What Wellness Means to Us

    Self care is taking charge and responsibility for yourself with, or without, medical or professional assistance to make sure that you are being the best YOU that YOU can be. Self care is, but is not, limited to fulfilling your needs and activities of daily living. Not only can it make you feel better, it will help you with establishing helpful behaviors that can become routine. It is different for everyone but it is about:

    • Finding creative and maintaining goals to achieve good physical & mental health
    • Reducing & managing stress and experiences in healthy ways
    • Meeting all of your emotional needs & addressing your feelings
    • Developing and maintaining healthy relationships
    • Finding balance in all that you do and activities in your everyday life to reach comfort, to relax and to take care of your overall well being

    Self care can mean looking or feeling your best but most importantly, it’s about meeting your own needs. Again, YOU come first and YOU are your first priority.

    Turning Point CT org

    Putting together a recovery plan is a great tool to get you thinking about your wellness and your illness.  First of all, think about these questions. What are you like when you are not well?  What are you like when you are well?  What treatments do you prefer?  What do you want to happen if your loved ones or providers need to intervene on your behalf?

    You can do a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) training to help you plan for recovery, prepare for the possibility of relapse or setbacks, and recognize when you are doing well.

    You can also create an Advance Directive, which is a legally binding document that you and the people who support you can use to make sure your wishes are respected if you are not well.

    “I’m working with my counselor on my WRAP plan, and we’re figuring my triggers, what triggers me to feel unhappy and everything.”  

    There are research studies available on different aspects of the “food-mood connection,” and it just makes sense that eating well supports your mental health! What you eat can have a big effect on how you feel overtime- research shows that it may be linked to depression, stress, and a multitude of other mental illnesses. Click here to find out more about the correlation.

    If you are experiencing depression definitly look at what you are eating and find more out about depression and nutrition. 

    “It’s hard when those cookies are in front of me, how can you not give in? But in the long run, eating healthy makes me, and my brain, feel way better. It helps me emotionally and physically.”

    Also check out this great flyer by the Screening for Mental Health (SMH)- Food and Mood

    Turning Point CT org

    We keep hearing about this from people in recovery.  Mindfulness is a way of being open and present without being judgmental about yourself (or others!). It helps keep things in perspective, helps with problem solving and managing symptoms. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to lower stress, reduce risk of depression, and improve sleep. Hints for starting.

    “When I am being mindful, I am able to breathe and really put things into perspective. Mindfulness allows me to keep things simple, one step at a time.”

    Check out these simple and positive tips to get started.

    “Yesterday I caught myself on the phone with my bank, drinking Starbucks and watching the girl I babysit show me what she made in art class. Sometimes I forget to stop and check to see how I am doing. Am I hungry? Am I angry? It’s easy to lose touch with yourself when you are running around getting your checklist done.”

    Turning Point CT org

    Get those endorphins going!  Many people in recovery feel better when exercise is part of their daily life.  It also helps with some side effects of medication, and can help to relieve stress and anxiety. Most of all, it feels good to get that energy out!

     Avoiding stress altogether, limiting it and developing great coping skills for it is so important. Start off going to the gym a couple days a week and then gradually make it a daily thing. Instead of going alone, you can go with a friend or someone. Keep a gym bag in your car. You can listen to music, or watch Netflix if you just HAVE to, while working out. It makes the time pass by really quickly!

    Check out these 5 reasons to get moving.

    “Going for runs helps me get all my anger out in a positive way.”


    Do you worry about getting enough sleep?

    This is something most of us can easily relate with, especially if you have lived with anxiety or depression.

    Sleep deprivation can have negative effects, including: limiting your ability to learn, listen, concentrate, remember stuff and solve problems.

    Types of sleep disorders:

    Insomnia (Inability to sleep); Sleep Apnea (Occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep) and Narcolepsy (A condition characterized by extreme tendency to fall sleep whenever one is in a relaxing surrounding).

    What can you do to sleep better?

    • Set fixed bedtime and awakening time
    • Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol 4-6 Hours before bed
    • And Exercise – but NOT right before bed

    Click here to for more helpful hints to help you sleep.  

    Turning Point CT org

    This chart, provided by the National Sleep Foundation, gives us an idea as to how much sleep we may need to stay healthy and productive.

    Recovery isn’t just about what you do when you’re in session with a professional—it’s also what you do when you’re out in the world.  Anything you do to help cheer yourself up, keep calm, or find comfort, is a coping skill.

    Make time for fun, laughter & relaxation! It is so important to do the things that make you happy. Make time for the things that you like to do–Focus on writing, reading, music,pets, friends, and being outdoors.

    Sometimes you need a break from your daily routine. De-stress and remember to smile. Other then working out and making healthy food decisions, getting a good amount of sleep is key to your overall wellness. Aim for 8 hours! Keeping a journal, doing art therapy, or just going for a walk can help.

    “I am now able to take my anger out with some paint, a paint brush and a canvas instead of on my self.”


    “I can’t talk to my family because nobody in my family takes me seriously. So instead I always write everything down as poetry.”


    Watch our other Recovery Poetry Videos

    Spirituality can be a an important and helpful part of wellness and recovery. Whether you’re dealing with addiction, mental illness or just everyday stress, spirituality can help people realize their own self worth and find inner peace. For some, spirituality involves an organized religion, but for many of us it is self defined and personal.

    “My sense of spirituality comes from a sense of wonder. For me, it has a lot more to do with appreciating my connectedness with the world around me than with a higher power.”

    Spiritual practices may include:

    • Meditation
    • Exploration of the meaning in life and ones purpose
    • A feeling of value, connectedness or belonging
    • Prayer
    • Belonging to a faith community
    • Living by a set of your own values regarding how you treat others
    • Emphasis on spiritual values such as honesty, kindness, hope and compassion.

    “For me it involves a God that loves me and accepts me for who I am. For most of my life I tried so hard to be good enough for everyone else, and the best part is that I have learned to be good enough right where I am, a work in progress. Being involved a Christian based group has been a huge source of support for me.”

    Click here for more information about spirituality related to mental health.

    Turning Point CT org

  • Family Support

    “I wish there had been a support group for my parents, for people like my parents struggling with kids who are going through hard times. Or if there are, that they had known about them.” 

    Supporting someone you love who has a mental health or substance use issue can take a lot of hard work. Family supports are for the people who support us—our parents, our significant others, and other friends and allies.

    Family Support is different from family therapy. The focus isn’t on working through problems within the family, but rather on providing education and help to the family or friends of someone who is struggling with mental illness, substance use, or addiction.

    The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides FREE support, education, and advocacy both for people like us who experience mental health and addiction issues and for our families. Many people feel a huge sense of relief, understanding, and bonding when they first get involved with NAMI after struggling on their own.

    NAMI chapters are everywhere. They offer support groups, guest speakers, and more—all for free and open to the public. Also offer special multi-week programs—like “Family to Family” (F2F) and the Child and Adolescent Network (CAN)—that are like a Mental Health 101 for our families.

    “I wish my dad would have taken the NAMI Family to Family training. My mom took it and she said it was a very good experience and she learned a lot.”  

    FAVOR is a Family Advocacy group for children’s mental health in Connecticut. They offer support groups, trainings, advocacy, and more.  The Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center and  State Education Resource Center provide training, documents, and legal resources.

  • Peer Support

    Sometimes you just need to be around people who understand what you’re going through, where you can feel accepted and comfortable. There are lots of ways to find peer support from people who are living with mental health and addiction issues—people like you and me, who may be further along in their journey. If you’re in school, you may be able to join (or start!) a chapter of LETS or Active Minds.

    How To Help Your Friend

    “Group” can refer to Group Therapy, which is run by a therapist or other professional.  It can also refer to a Peer Support Group, where there are no professionals and meetings take place in a public space like a library, church, or classroom.  Peer support groups can focus on an age group, an addiction, or an issue like PTSD or an eating disorder. There are also support groups for family members and other people who support us.  “Group” is a place where we can support each other and be supported in turn.

    “It works for me because it’s other people like me talking about things and how they handle it, other than going into an office with someone who hasn’t been through what I went through and just thinking they could help you.” 

    What to Expect from Group Therapy

    Social Clubs—which are FREE—are a great place to meet and socialize with others who are also working on their recovery from mental illness. The clubs are also a great way to learn about resources in your area from the people who know. The staff helps you connect with services like supported housing, supported education, employment, and benefits. Many clubs also offer advocacy opportunities at the local and state-wide level.

    Click here for a list of social clubs in CT. We also have two “clubhouses” in the state: Bridge House (Bridgeport) and Prime Time House (Torrington). They are also free social clubs, but are a peer-run community with no doctors, nurses, or therapists. Clubhouses are not open to the public; no one will know you go there unless you tell them.

    Note: Some social clubs require a referral from a therapist or other professional.

    “We’re not here because we need to be here, we’re here because we choose to. We choose to be here getting to know one another. So that’s why we can actually get comfortable and have the experience of being in a place that is for mental illness but is non-medicated.” 

    Alcoholics Anonymous was the first 12-step program and has helped people around the world. Now there are all kinds of 12-step programs–Emotions Anonymous, Overeaters AnonymousNarcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon/Alateen, etc.–where people come together to share and support each other in recovery from addictions, eating disorders, etc.

    Some benefits are that 12-step programs are free, anonymous, and help you find a “Sponsor” to help guide you through sobriety. They are not associated with any religion–however, there is a spiritual element of a “Higher Power” that is suggested, but not required.

    If you’re not sure whether the 12 steps are for you, call their 800 number to find a nearby “open meeting.” Open meetings allow you to attend to see if the program is for you.

    Recovery Community Organizations are another FREE, peer-run option providing support, education, outreach, and advocacy for people living with addiction. They don’t focus on 12 steps but believe there are many different pathways to recovery.

    The Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) has drop-in Recovery Community Centers in Bridgeport, Hartford, and Windham. They also offer telephone support for people in recovery and lots of other services.


    People in recovery can get trained as a Recovery Support Specialist or to do Intentional Peer Support so that they can help others. They can work with you as part of your treatment team, alongside a therapist and psychiatrist. They focus on helping you become empowered in your own recovery and engaged in communities that interest you. And they’ve been through what you’re going through!

    Only people who have lived with mental illness and/or addiction can take the certification program and work as Recovery Support Specialists or IPS staff.

    Turning Point CT org

  • Supplements

    Many people take natural or herbal supplements instead of (or along with) medication. A lot of people are very happy with the results. Click here and here to read about some medically-reviewed supplements that support your mental and emotional health. Or check out this info from Dr. Andrew Weil, one of the pioneers in the field of integrative medicine.

    For best results, consult a specialist such as a naturopathic doctor, a registered dietician, or an integrative medicine specialist. In CT, many hospitals have integrative medicine centers.


    • Supplements are not regulated by the FDA and are not covered by most insurance plans.
    • Always tell your doctor if you are taking any supplements—some supplements interact with medication.
  • Medication

    Just like with any illness, medication can be a huge help. However, be aware that just because you are getting medication and may feel stable, you should not stop going to wherever you’re seeking help!

    “My meds don’t make me happy.  I take my meds to feel well, well enough to do the work of recovery.  Being happy is up to me.”

    “It has happened to me where I’m like “ok, I’m stopping, I feel good, I don’t need my medication” and then that’s why I hit rock bottom again, and I’m like “oh damn, I’m here again! What am I doing?” 

    Sometimes people don’t like to hear the words, “you need meds.” However, there’s nothing wrong with taking medication and you shouldn’t feed the stigma towards it. In some cases, medication may be your best option. If your mental health is preventing you from getting through the day, meds may provide the support necessary to go to work or school and do well. Don’t stress about it! If you are interested, we are here to offer some simple tricks to getting the best results from your meds!

    When you don’t have the answer, ask someone. Your doctor/psychiatrist, therapist/social worker, and people on will be there too!

    There is no blood test to find out what medication will work for you; it’s trial and error between you and your doctor. There are anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, and other drugs for panic, anxiety, obsession, ADHD, etc.. Sometimes what works is a combo of several drugs. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right stuff and you may experience side effects, but don’t lose hope! Be patient, recovery is a process.

    If you have an addiction, there are certain meds that can help with withdrawals. And remember if you are living with mental illness and a history of addiction, there are non-addictive medications you can take!

    “Half of my struggle is my behavior and my thought processes, but the chemical piece is fixed. It’s just so incredible to think that taking this little pill makes me feel like myself.”

    Before you even walk into the doctor’s office you may write a list of questions that you want to ask your doctor. You could scribble a few questions down on a piece of paper and tuck it into your wallet or purse. Some questions that may come up includes:

    • What is the name of the medicine?
    • Why am I taking this medicine?
    • How long before you expect to see results?
    • What about side effects? Are there ways to minimize these side effects?
    • When and how often should I take the medicine? As needed, or on a schedule?
    • Can I break my medication in half?
    • How long will I have to take it?

    Ask More Questions!

    • Are there any foods that I should not eat?
    • Can I drink alcohol while taking this medicine?
    • Is this medication addicting?
    • Is it OK to eat or drink food before or after I take the medicine?
    • If I forget to take it, what should I do?
    • What should I do if I feel I want to stop taking this medicine? Is it safe to just stop?
    • What should I do if I miss a dose of this medication?

    There are so many more questions you could think of, but you want to make sure that you get the best results. You must be your own advocate so that you can get the best results you need to spend time learning about your medication.

    You need to work with a doctor to figure out your medication. A psychiatrist, some general practice doctors, and psychiatric Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (known as psychiatric APRNs in CT) can prescribe psychiatric medications. A psychologist cannot.

    Even if you don’t have insurance, there are programs where you can find a doctor to help you.

    To search for a doctor, facility, and/or clinic in CT, click here!

    Again, you must have an honest and open communication with your doc! No one can help you 100% if you are not being completely honest about how your meds are working.

    If the medications are not giving you unexpected results, tell your doctor. If you are having any side effects, tell your doctor. If you keep forgetting to take your meds, tell your doctor! Even if you don’t want to take your meds anymore and want to try something else… the doctor needs to know!

    It’s easy to forget where, when, and how many meds you must take. The routine can seem overwhelming, which can make it difficult to keep track of it all. Don’t stress it! We have a ton of tips to help you stay organized!

    Avoid common mistakes

    • Finish all of the medication, even if you start to feel better.
    • Keep taking the medication, even if you don’t notice an improvement in your symptoms right away.
    • Contact your health care team if you start to feel worse while taking a medication or notice new symptoms.
    • Make sure you always are honest with your doctor and keep the convo open with them!

    Stay on Schedule

    • Read the entire medication label on the container to make sure you take the right dose.
    • Take your pills at the scheduled time and day
    • Ask family members or friends to remind you and also, if you’re comfortable, make sure someone you trust knows about the medications you are on
    • Use a chart, pill calendar, or your phone’s calendar reminders to set a schedule and track when you take your medication.

    Avoid drug complications

    • Fill all of your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. That way, your pharmacist can keep a complete list of the medications you take and alert you to possible drug complications
    • Ask your pharmacist to use easy-to-read, color-coded labels to make taking your medication easier


    If your medication needs you to have a full stomach, make sure you eat! Depending on the meds, an empty stomach might turn into an upset stomach when not following this instruction.

    A Couple of Extra Helpful Hints for Organization:

    “I fill my pill box every Sunday and then I am set for the week. It makes everything so easy as I take what is in the individual box for the day and then I’m all set. I felt like a grandma at first, but this little box has made my life so much more manageable.” Ann.

    • Set an Alarm on Your Phone
    • Get a pill box organizer

    There are also plenty of FREE apps that can help you with your medication. Just type in “medication” in your search bar of whichever app store you use and chose which one fits best for you. A lot of them have reminders which save the trouble of doing it on your phone yourself.

    Medication can be extremely helpful, BUT it can only do its job if you are taking it as prescribed. So if you are either taking more than prescribed AND/OR missing doses or not consistently taking it, you might fall under a description below:

    1. Taking more to numb out? In times like this it’s important to check your intentions and reasons why we are taking more. Addiction to prescription drugs is real! Recovery from it is real too! Check out Ally’s Blog about her recovery!
    2. Being medicine compliant means that you take your medication. But it is really common to be hesitant and have a hard time accepting that we need a help with the assistance of a pill. This doesn’t mean that you are weak; it means that you might need medicine that assists you with whatever you might be having a hard time with, along with other supports.

    “I had a hard time with prescription drugs because I was abusing them. I just felt like nothing was helping, so I took matters into my own hands. I know today though that the meds I take can only help me if I take it like I’m supposed to. My way never worked.” Jane

  • Other Therapies

    Other therapies work for different people. Sometimes you may even need a combination.

    Not all therapy involves talking with a therapist! There are other options out there.

    • EMDR

      (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is used to help people heal from trauma or emotional distress. It involves recalling a memory and changing how you think about it through eye movements and other sensations based in the brain. Many veterans use it for PTSD. It’s somewhat controversial, although there is research to support it.

    • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

      (TMS) is an FDA-approved non-invasive alternative treatment for depression. TMS can help with depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, addiction, and even fibromyalgia. This is usually for people who are not helped by medication or other treatment methods. In a TMS session, a magnetic field generator, or “coil”, is placed near the head of the person receiving the treatment. The coil produces small electric currents in the region of the brain the part of the brain which causes to depression and other mood disorders. This treatment is usually done by, by a licensed clinician, in a 4 to 6 week period. It is covered only by a few insurance companies in CT.

    • ECT

      (Electro Convulsive Therapy) is a treatment option in cases like treatment-resistant depression, such as when other methods like medications and therapy have been unsuccessful. There are some possible side effects, like short-term memory loss, but ECT therapy is nothing like what we usually see in TV or movies, and is completely safe. The ECT procedure works by electric currents passing through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. ECT therapy can quickly treat symptoms of certain mental illnesses, such as severe depression, and is administered to patients while they’re under general anesthesia.

    • Light therapy

      is used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that is directly related to the change in seasons and is most commonly found in during the colder months, when time spent outdoors lessens drastically. Light Box Therapy uses artificial light that mimics natural outdoor sunlight and eases the symptoms of SAD. Light boxes can be purchased over the counter, with a prescription and are available in stores or through internet retailers.

    • Art Therapy

      is a therapy that helps your mental wellness through artistic self-expression. The process and creation of artwork can help people understand their emotional conflicts, develop social skills, improve self-esteem, manage addictions, reduce anxiety, and restore normal function to their lives.

    • Play therapy

      uses puppets, painting, and other techniques to help people express emotions that are hard to talk about. This therapy is often used with younger children.

  • Talk Therapy

    (aka psychotherapy)

    Therapy helps you put a new perspective on things. And it’s your opportunity to vent, ask for advice, get feedback, and follow up on your goals with someone who’s trained to listen and help. Help is available even if you’re uninsured!

    “Talking is the first step: don’t bottle! You should talk to someone who knows what to do, how to help you.”

    Try to keep an open mind. In therapy it’s really important to feel that you can be open, honest, and willing to do the work necessary. There is a right fit for you! Remember, if you don’t find that right therapist right away, try not to get discouraged. It might seem like it’s too hard, but just keep going and continue to seek help.

    “You have to be really picky and choosy. I’m glad I tried everything or else I wouldn’t have found the right one. I’m so happy I switched therapists.”

    What to Expect from Your First Therapy Session

    What to Expect from Group Therapy

    Cognitive therapy teaches you to recognize and correct your negative thoughts.

    Behavioral therapy focuses on helping you change your patterns of behavior. Sometimes it involves gradually exposing you to things that make you feel anxious or that trigger you so that eventually you can get de-sensitized.

    Can’t decide? A lot of people choose a form of therapy that combines aspects of both cognitive and behavioral therapy, such as CBT and DBT.

    • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy—aka CBT- helps you recognize the tough stuff going on in your life and the thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that come with it. In CBT you work on and challenge that inaccurate thinking.
    • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy—aka DBT- uses mindfulness and other core skills to help you change your ineffective behaviors like self harm and substance abuse. You learn what your triggers are and figure out what coping skills to apply to your thoughts, feelings, and the situation.

    “CBT definitely! Looking at and analyzing the way that I interpret what goes on around me was really helpful.” 

    “DBT was one of the best decisions of my life, as much as I didn’t want to do it at the time. The radical acceptance was awesome.” 

    Psychoanalysis is what Freud invented. It’s where you spend a lot of time over a long period getting into your past. It focuses on how these events might have helped shape the person you are today and do the things you do.

    Click the “Who Can Help Me?” button on the right to read about types of therapists or go to our Resources page to find provider agencies.

    What to Expect from Your First Therapy Session

    You can do therapy one-on-one or in a small group. A lot of people even do both.

    Individual therapy normally meets once a week for a 45-50 minute session.

    “I’ve had the same psychologist for 6 years now, and she’s seen me through so much. I love her to bits.” 

    Group therapy is a good opportunity to hear from and share with your peers. You can get advice from people experiencing similar situations.

    “Group therapy was really helpful for me, because when you’re depressed you feel like you’re the only person that feels that way, but you’re not!” 

    What to Expect from Your First Therapy Session

    What to Expect from Group Therapy

    Family therapists specialize in group dynamics. Their job is to help your family members work through conflict. They work with you and your family (or who you live with) to bridge gaps in communication.

    BUT if you’re going to have your own therapist plus a family therapist, consider this:

    “My [personal] therapist was the same therapist the whole family saw and that was definitely a mistake. It feels like she’s shared, she’s not truly confidential.” 

    What to Expect from Your First Therapy Session

    What to Expect from Group Therapy

  • Who can help me?

    The people already in your life can help you, and so can peers and professionals - but in different ways.

  • How do I know what kind of therapists to work with?

    Therapists are professionals who are trained to help you with your issues.  Feel free to “shop around” until you find one that works for you.

    You probably want to start by seeing some type of Master’s-level therapist, often once a week. The therapist can refer you to a psychologist as needed for a complete evaluation and/or to a psychiatrist for meds. A psychiatric APRN who is working with a doctor may also prescribe meds. You may also have a case manager to help coordinate services for you.

     “My therapist will help me unpack the baggage.  She’ll be the person I see for an hour once a week, and she’s the person that I work with on my coping skills and my symptom management in terms of my behavior and managing goals.” 

    Whether you have public or private insurance, you can access an online database of therapists near you.  Most databases provide info such as whether the therapists have any specialties, like focusing on certain diagnoses, working with LGBTQ people, trauma training, or speaking a foreign language.

    “My clinician was great.  She really wanted me to do well, she really had higher hopes for me, so I started getting better.” 

    • The terms counselor, therapist, and clinician can be confusing.
    • A counselor may have a mental health background, such as if they are a Licensed Professional Counselor—in which case they’ll have LPC after their name. But “counselor” is a generic title that doesn’t always mean the person has a particular degree or training.
    • A therapist or clinician can be an LPC, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), or a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). They are licensed by the state and have a Master’s level background. They are certified to do counseling.
    • A pastoral counselor is a therapist who integrates theology with his or her training in the behavioral sciences. In Connecticut, to receive a license, a pastoral counselor must have an LMFT or LMHC degree.
    • A psychologist can also provide counseling.

    Choosing a therapist is usually based on factors like what your insurance covers, who referred you, and how close the office is to you. Whether it’s an LMFT, an LCSW, or a psychologist, the therapist will be able to listen to you and provide counseling. You should probably meet a couple of therapists and decide based on which one you “click” with better.

    A psychologist has an advanced degree in psychology and is Board certified. A school psychologist has to have a Master’s degree; a clinical psychologist has to have a Doctoral level degree. Psychologists can do assessments and evaluations and can diagnose mental illnesses. They can also provide counseling.

    “We have a treatment plan where we come up with what goals I have for the next 3-6 months of treatment and what will it look like when I’m ready to be discharged. What are my standards for that? How will I achieve the goals that I’ve set? What do I need to do on my own and what do we need to do in session?”

    A psychiatric Advanced Practice Registered Nurse is a nurse with at least a Master’s degree in nursing. Psychiatric APRNs who are in a collaborative practice with a doctor can prescribe medication.

    A psychiatrist will work with you primarily on managing your medication—making sure that the meds are working, seeing if they’re helping your symptoms and if you’re having any side effects.  You might only see the psychiatrist once or twice a month.

    “I personally like my psychiatrist because he talks to me like I’m a normal person, like ‘so, do you think these meds work for you?’ So many people say “you’re taking this pill, no questions asked,” but he asks me questions and I answer him. I’m like “I don’t feel comfortable with this med” or “I want to up my meds” and he’s really in tune with that.” 

    A case manager helps organize people with multiple life issues. Your case manager may work with both you and your family. He or she can help you with coordinating and monitoring your therapy, nutrition, education, employment, etc.

  • Can anyone at school help me?

    A lot of us are in school all day. If you are experiencing any issues with your mental health, your school may be a good place to start looking for help. Try talking to a counselor  or a trusted teacher.

    “The school helped me so much by getting me in contact with all sorts of people.”

    Sometimes you may not find the support you need at school, but don’t lose hope. School is just one of many places that you can look for help, but in some cases it may not offer the help you need. However, school is a great jumping point if you are looking for some place to start and do not know how.

    A good person to talk to is your school’s social worker or psychologist. Most high schools and colleges have at least one that is available all the time or at least some of the time. You can usually see them a few times before being referred to an outside professional, and they are also a good place to find resources that may help you. Best of all, it’s free!

    “I would talk to the school psychologist first, and say “this is how I’m feeling,” because they’ll always listen.” 

    You should be aware though, that if you report to the school that you are suicidal or self harming, most schools are legally obligated to contact your parents or report it to someone who can get you help.

    Guidance counselors are NOT specifically there for your mental health—they’re more like academic advisers. They can help you with school—changing your schedule, starting a club, or making plans for your life after graduation.

    However, they should still be able to tell you who to talk to if you need help and do not know where to go.

    The same is true for a teacher- they are not there for your mental health. They should, however, be able to direct you to the help you need.

    Some middle and high schools have a School-Based Health Center, and colleges usually have a student health center where you can ask for some mental health counseling.

    Since school health centers offer both medical and mental health care, no one will know what you’re there for.  They’re free and confidential.

    The only thing is, if you are under 18 you have to have parental consent to use the school-based health center—unless it’s an emergency, like if you’re thinking of hurting yourself.

  • Can my doctor or pediatrician help?

    Can my doctor or pediatrician help?

    You can always start by talking with your regular doctor. If you talk your concerns, they should be able to make sure there isn’t an underlying medical issue that’s causing your symptoms. And if there is, they can help get you treatment for that.

    If they think you need—or if you ask for—mental health or addiction treatment, they will most likely know about a few local providers. They may even be able to recommend specific people or programs that you might prefer! But keep in mind that their specialty is not mental health and addiction. Odds are they won’t know about everything that’s available to you. That’s why it’s important if you get a referral to follow through and see a mental health professional.

  • What about my friends?

    What about my friends?

    Friends can help you on levels professionals can’t. For many of us, a friend is the first person we talk to about what’s going on and what we’re going through.  They don’t always have the information we need, but our friends can be our biggest supporters when it comes to helping us deal with our struggles.

    “Talk to the ones who will support you no matter what. Especially ones that understand you or are dealing with the same situations.”

    If you are worried about one of your own friends, take it seriously! Talk to them,  listen to what they have to say and be supportive, but remember that your friend may need more help than you can give. If that’s the case, make a phone call for them, or bring them to a counselor.

    What About My Friends?

  • What should I say to my family?

    One of the first questions asked is usually what should I say to my family? How will they react? Will they judge me?

    “Everyone around me was pretty much saying “oh you’re just growing up, you’re just a teenager, it’s nothing, it’s nothing, it’s nothing.” But eventually it was very clear that it wasn’t just nothing.”

    Your family may not take you seriously at first. This might be because adolescents or pre-teens having mental illness is scary and people don’t want to accept that that’s an issue. It may be easier for them to think you’re just being dramatic.

    To get them to understand, be specific about what you’re experiencing. Talk about how you’re feeling and ask to see someone. You can ask to go on medication or use another form of treatment if that’s what you want. Ask to go to group therapy, if that’s what you want.

    “I erupted at my dad and told him that I had my first experience of suicide ideation when I was 10 years old. And said I’ve never done anything about it in terms of resolving or figuring out or anything, and I laid it out for him. He sat there quietly and said “OK. Well, I’m going to make some phone calls and we’re going to figure out what to do because whatever you’re doing isn’t working.” And it wasn’t a judgment thing.”

    “My family doesn’t really understand. My sister’s like “oh, you just have high emotions”–no, it’s not high emotions! When it comes to a mental disability, they need to understand we’re not crazy. We just need a little more help than others.”

    If your family isn’t as supportive as you’d like, don’t give up! Remember that they want what’s best for you, even when they don’t know what that is. They are just trying to support you with the understanding that they have, which is not always accurate.

    If your family doesn’t understand, go to a mentor, teacher, neighbor, or someone you trust:

    “Go to the right people, especially people that are in your corner that can help you, not somebody that’s going to break you down. You should go to people that are going to help you and help you find the right resources.”

  • Who should I call if it's a crisis?

    If you are hurting yourself or you feel suicidal, tell someone immediately. Tell someone. It might feel like in the moment things won’t get better, but we are here to tell you they will!

    There are trained people who can help and can even come right to you. Contacting a crisis line is free and confidential.

    “I’ve saved two people’s lives because they told me ‘you know what, I’m going to kill myself,’ and I took them seriously enough to call their parents or to call the police.”

    Mobile crisis teams have counselors who will talk to you over the phone or come to you wherever you are. They can take you to the hospital if necessary or make an appointment for you. The service is free and available 24/7.

    • In Connecticut, call 211 to reach mobile crisis.
    • If you’re under 18, after you dial 211 just press 1 for Child Guidance to speak to a crisis counselor immediately.
    • If you’re over 18, ask for the number for the Adult Mobile Crisis team near you.

    You can always call 911 to get an ambulance. If you ask for someone with CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) training, that person will know better how to help you. They can take you to a hospital for psychiatric assistance.

    When you really need to talk, the American Federation for Suicide Prevention runs a hotline that you can call any time, day or night. (You don’t have to be suicidal.) Call 1-800-273-TALK (-8255). You can also call 1-800-SUI-CIDE.

    The Crisis Text Line (CTL) is toll-free and is specifically for teens & young adults. You can contact them 24/7 to talk to a trained counselor about any issue from being lonely, to bullying, pregnancy, coming out, problems with your family, etc. Text “CTL” to 741741.

    The Trevor Lifeline is an LGBTQ resource—specifically for young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or questioning and may be in crisis or feeling suicidal. Call 24/7 for a safe and judgment-free place to talk: 866-488-7386. There are also text and chat options during evening hours.

  • Why should I talk to someone?

    Why should I talk to someone?

    Talking to someone about what’s going on is really important!

    “The more you talk, the more likely you are to get more help.”

    There are lots of people you can talk to, and if the first person doesn’t know how to help you, then you can ask them to help you figure out your options.

    It can be scary at first considering opening up to someone, but telling another person how you are feeling is the only way the will know! Unfortunately, people can’t read our minds and that means we have to talk about it. Being honest about where you are at is the only way you can take the first step in getting help.

    So take a deep breathe and go talk to someone. It can be hard but in the end talking and asking for help is worth it because that puts you one step closer to feeling better.

    “Realize that you are not feeling okay and that’s okay. People just want to pretend that they feel fine and maybe it’ll go away, but it won’t. It will just bubble up. You need to take the first step and be courageous enough to ask for help.”

  • How do I access services?

    Learn how to navigate the behavioral health system.

    There are many ways to learn about and access services—the important part is to keep asking different people what is available. Some services are free. Some services require a referral from a doctor or therapist, but there are a lot of resources that are not clinical.
    And remember: There is more than just therapy and medication.

  • What other support is available on campus?...

    Apart from school social workers or psychologists, on campus there is also non-clinical support. This kind of support can be really helpful to a lot of people who are at college.

    • Some high schools have a Let’s Erase The Stigma (LETS) chapter, and some colleges have an Active Minds chapter. Here you can get support for your mental health.
    • If you are struggling with addiction, most campuses have AA or other support groups available.
    • If you are living on a college campus, see if there is a sober house (dorm) where drugs and alcohol are not allowed.

    Some campuses have recovery houses (dorms) like at Fairfield University. Click here to read about their recovery house and substance abuse programs on campus. There are also other resources such as, recovery centers for people in recovery from mental illness.

    Supports like these can help you in more ways then one when you’re at school. Just because you might deal with mental health and of substance abuse issues doesn’t mean that you can’t have a great college experience! There are people on campus that get it and are going through the same thing that you are!

  • What kinds of support services are there?...

    Personal support is available through friends, peer programs, and family support services, which can include home-based support and respite programs. In addition, other options like case management, community based services, and other support services provide “wraparound” care.

    A case manager helps you by coordinating the services you receive from a doctor or therapist, advocating for you, and helping you figure out if you are entitled to special programs or benefits. Your provider agency may assign you a case manager.

    If you are eligible for state-funded services in Connecticut, intensive case management is available your community.

    • One option is the CSP/RP program, where your case manager will meet with you several times per month in a community setting like your apartment, job, or a park—even a donut shop!
    • Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) is a more intensive program where a trained team of providers work together to directly provide everything a person with mental illness may need, rather than referring you to other agencies.
    • Also, Melissa’s Project (Guardian ad Litem Services) provides intensive case management and coordinates care across all Connecticut systems (mental health, housing, judicial system, etc.), for people with severe mental illness who have a conservator assigned to watch over them.

    The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services provides “wraparound” services for people who have a mental health concern or are struggling with addiction. These services are free or low-cost. They definitely help you reduce the cost of your living expenses while giving you the support you may need if you are struggling with your mental health while working or studying.

    Services available through DMHAS include:

    • Supportive housing: Different levels of care are available, from group homes with onsite 24/7 case workers to scattered-site apartments with staff who are on call. You may start in the hospital, go to a group home to build your skills, and later graduate to your own apartment.
    • Supported employment: You may receive job counseling, job training, work evaluations and job placement, supervision and support.
    • Supported education: Many of us have our education interrupted due to mental illness or addiction. Supported education programs offer coaching, support, and academic advising to help us complete our education.
    • Transportation: Travel vouchers, reduced fares, and other programs—including travel training—are available for people who have a mental disability.

    Whether it’s through BRS (Bureau of Rehabilitation Services) or a clubhouse, you can get help finding, applying for, and keeping a job. Employment specialists help you advocate for accommodations if you need them because of your illness. This service is free through BRS and clubhouses.

    “My main support was my education and job counselor at the social club. I would call her if I had any problems, and she would always encourage me, and we’d look for jobs together. She would always push me, push me, and motivate me.” 

    If you use the bus to get around, you can go to and get an application for a reduced fare ID card.  Your therapist or psychiatrist will need to fill this out for you, and you will need to submit a passport photo and $5.

    Food stamps, now called SNAP (Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program) help pay for groceries. Cash Assistance can help with other household expenses. Be prepared to wait for your application to be processed.

    “I wish I knew about food stamps back in the day, I wish I learned about cash. Everything I learned for the last 3 years here I wish I learned back then, because I’d be more ready.”

  • What kinds of clinical services are there?...

    “I wish I knew of services earlier. I wish I had known about services and I wish I had known that other people felt the same way as I did.” 

    If you or a friend are having a psychiatric emergency, you can call 211 and ask for the mobile crisis team, call 911, or go to the ER.

    You may have better luck at the emergency room if you are brought in by the mobile crisis team or by 911—otherwise you may just wait.

    Like a visit to the doctor, outpatient treatment allows you to stay home and maintain your daily activities in the community. Usually you visit a therapist about once a week for about 45 minutes. Outpatient services can be one-on-one or in a group.

    IOP is Intensive Outpatient treatment—for people who need more intensive support to deal with their addiction, prevent hospitalization, or transition out of the hospital after a crisis.

    You live at your own place, but you receive a lot more services for a period of several weeks, until you’re feeling more stable. Usually IOP involves group therapy 2-3 times a week for about 3 hours each time.

    IOP is covered by most insurance plans. If your insurance runs out before you are ready to leave, your treatment coordinator can ask for an extension.

    “When I first got out of the hospital, I wanted to start my life from scratch.  IOP helped me transition to being out in the world again.” 

    A Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) is a very intensive short-term program for people experiencing acute psychiatric issues but who do not require the 24 hour setting of a hospital. At a PHP, you receive therapy and education and participate in groups 3-5 days per week for most of the day, but you go home at night.

  • What am I eligible for?...

    In CT, if you are under 18 you can receive services through Child Guidance. They can assess you, provide individual, group, or family therapy, and can help coordinate all the services you or your family may need.

    Child Guidance will accept people with private insurance or public insurance such as Medicaid. If you don’t have insurance, they charge using a sliding-fee scale based on your family’s income. You may be able to pay around $30/visit, which is equivalent to some people’s co-pay.

    “The insurance companies will work with you if you work with them. The issue is they’re not always as generous as you’d like them to be.” 

    If you have private insurance, take a look at the policy (or ask the company to send it to you) and find out what mental health benefits are covered, what the co-pay is, whether you need a doctor’s referral, and whether you need the insurance company to “pre-authorize” services. Then take a look at the insurance company’s online list of mental health providers that they work with. Look for someone local who is “in-network”—it’s usually cheaper than out of network.

    “When I’ve had to search for providers, I’ll find all the providers that are along bus routes or that are walking distance from where I live or from where I work. Then I’ll go through the information and highlight different specialties they have that are relevant to me, and I’ll pick 3-6 that I am absolutely sure that I want to try and I’ll try them. If those don’t work out, I’ll move to the next.” 

    If you or your family have a low income, you may qualify for coverage under Medicaid. In CT, there are several Medicaid programs known as HUSKY.

    • HUSKY A covers children and their caregivers, as well as pregnant women.
    • HUSKY B (aka the Children’s Health Insurance Program) covers uninsured children up to age 19 in somewhat higher income families, sometimes with cost-sharing depending on the income level.
    • HUSKY C is for people with disabilities, including mental illness.
    • HUSKY D is Medicaid for low-income adults.

    “When I applied for HUSKY-D, it took me five months to get approved, and I had to make a lot of phone calls to make sure my case was moving along and not getting lost in the piles of paperwork.  But now, I don’t have any copays because I have Medicaid for low income adults.”

    Note: There are other entitlement programs, for people, if you have a developmental disability. A social worker can help you figure out what you qualify for. If you’re not sure, apply anyway! If you don’t qualify for them, then you don’t qualify for them, but you won’t know until you apply.

    In Connecticut, people who qualify for public assistance can receive outpatient and inpatient services, case management, and wraparound care, including young adult services focused on people ages 18-25, from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS).

    If you are undocumented, you can still get mental health services and pay “out of pocket” (cash). Look for agencies that charge based on a “sliding fee scale,” which means they will charge you more or less based on your income.  You may be able to pay around $30/visit, which is equivalent to some people’s co-pay.

    In Connecticut, people who are undocumented can receive outpatient and inpatient services, case management, and wraparound care, including young adult services focused on people ages 18-25, from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS).

    Many therapists do not participate with any insurance companies, because it’s easier for them to charge you directly and let you deal with getting reimbursed. Expect to pay around $100-150/visit. Your insurance may later reimburse you up to 80% of the cost.

    Always get a printout from the therapist showing the date of service, service received, with all info and codes filled out, indicating that you paid. You can submit that document to your insurance company for reimbursement. Make sure you keep a copy in case they lose it!

    Ironically, if you qualify for public assistance, you are probably eligible for a lot more mental health services than if you have private insurance. The state Department of Mental Health and  Addiction Services (DMHAS, pronounced “deemuss”) offers “wraparound” services such as young adult programs, case management, peer support, supported housing, supported education, and supported employment for people with a mental illness.

    If you have private insurance through your family, a social worker might advise you to get off their insurance especially before you turn 18, so you can qualify for the public programs.

    During 2014, the state Department of Children and Families is working on designing an integrated behavioral health plan for ages 0-18 that is supposed to provide the same level of care no matter what kind of insurance you have.

  • What should I do first?...

    I think I need help? You might want to start by asking your family, doctor, or a school social worker to help you so that you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help.

    In Connecticut, you can always call 211—it’s the free 24-hour helpline. They can walk you through the steps to help you figure out what agencies in your community can help you. 211 will help with anything from food & shelter to mental health. There is also the crisis intervention available.

    The key factors to consider are your age, whether you have insurance and what type, and where you live.



  • What should I expect?

    Common questions you might have on your path to recovery.

  • What support can I get at work and school?

    Support at work and school is really important and helpful!

    “I tried to explain to my manager that my pace at work was slower because I have depression. He told me ‘Leave your problems at home.’” 

    Schools are required to offer special accommodations to students with different needs.

    For example, they may give you extra time to take an exam or let you to take an exam in a separate, quieter room. Other options depend on your needs.

    The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requires that employers make accommodations for employees that need them, as long as the accommodation does not create “undue hardship” for the employer.

    In CT, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services offers supported education and supported employment services. Contact your local social club for more information.

    If you work for a company that has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), you can talk with an EAP counselor about personal, emotional, and/or family issues. EAP counselors can support you, see you for a few sessions, and refer you for further help if needed. They will keep the conversation confidential.

  • What should I expect from family and friends?

    Sometimes it seems like there’s a fine line between a mental health problem and being a teenager! Every family is different and not everyone experiences the same reactions. Here are some responses you can prepare yourself for. Your family and friends may not take you seriously. They may think you’re just being dramatic.  If you’re dealing with an addiction or substance use issue, you’re probably dealing with a lot of mixed messages from people who are close to you. It might be about what is or is not okay when it comes to drinking, drugs, and addiction. Or your family could be understanding from the start. We can understand that it’s hard to accept that either one could be your situation, but don’t let it stand in your way of getting help!

    Having family and friends understand your illness and support your recovery may be a work in progress. You can try to help them understand by being very specific about what’s going on with you. Or maybe writing them a letter if it’s hard to talk about it.

    If they want to help, they can consider joining a support group, seeing a family therapist with you, or taking a class like NAMI’s Family to Family program.  If they want help understanding what you’re dealing with, and talking isn’t enough, they can do their own research.

    “Ever since my mom did the NAMI Family to Family program, she’s been sending me articles and asking me questions.  I send her stuff, too, and it really helps to start the conversation.  There’s less pressure on her to know or understand right away. And less pressure on me to tell her everything she needs to know about this stuff.”

    If you don’t find the support you need from family, you can find other people to be your supporters. Maybe someone at school, a mentor, a counselor, someone from a youth group.

    “Go to the right people, people that are in your corner that can help you, not somebody that’s going to break you down.” 

    Watch our other Recovery Poetry Videos

  • What's it going to cost? What if I don't have insurance?

    Surprisingly, you can get a lot of help even if you don’t have insurance.

    • Private insurance and Medicaid/HUSKY will generally cover behavioral health services. Though, you are likely to have a co-pay for each visit.
    • If you don’t have good insurance, many agencies and some individual therapists will charge you based on a “sliding scale.” This means that they will charge you more or less depending on what your income is.
    • The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) has services for people with public or no insurance (including special programs for young adults ages 18-25).

    You will need to pay something for your meds, but the amount will depend on your insurance. Generic meds are always cheaper than name-brands. So ask your prescriber to specify a generic whenever possible. Don’t be afraid to discuss the cost with your prescriber! He or she may be able to help you with other recommendations. Some providers may be able to help you out with free samples.

  • Can I keep my issues confidential? Who will find out?

    Professionals such as therapists are required by law to maintain the confidentiality of their clients. That means they can’t tell others, including your parents, what you tell them during a therapy session. However, people who are “mandated reporters” (like those who work with children) are required by law to file a report when there is a risk of suicide, abuse, or self-harm.


    “You break a bone and it’s fine, but as soon as something’s wrong with your head, it’s like ‘whoa, you’re cuckoo.’ I wish I could be like, ‘you know, therapy yesterday was great’ to random people. Like: How was your day? ‘It was good, I went to therapy, got my stuff done, got my homework done,’ but you leave that part out because it’s scary.”

    Worried that people will think you’re a drama queen? That they won’t take you seriously, or that they’ll think you’re crazy? Unfortunately, you could be right. There’s a lot of stigma out there because people just don’t understand that issues like depression, anxiety, other mental illness, and addictions are disorders of the brain—just  like diabetes is a disorder of the body.

    It’s up to you to decide what you want to share about what you’re going through. Some people like to speak out. Some people only share with their closest friends. Figure out who you want to share with, what you want to share, when, and where. If you feel like you’re ready to get active, to be an advocate and work for change and fight stigma, then check out one of these advocacy resources.

    “When I first got started, I told everyone I had personal experience and what my diagnosis was anytime the topic of mental health came up.  I wanted to be the brave person who makes it okay to talk about mental illness, but I was overdoing it.” 

    “One of my tricks is to appear as calm as possible, it keeps me in a better place, but then at some point just slip it into the conversation that I’m bipolar, because it really takes them off their feet. They’re like, ‘whoa, you don’t seem bipolar,’ and I’m like, ‘what does that mean?’ Try to poke at them a little bit, make them think about what they just said.” 

  • What's the point of getting a diagnosis?

    A diagnosis is a tool for professionals to understand your mental health needs and what treatments (meds, therapy, support group) are most likely to help you. It also helps them get your treatment reimbursed by insurance companies or by the state.

    A diagnosis is not a definition of who you are, but of the problems you are struggling with. Your diagnosis may change over time, but it helps you to get help. For a lot of us, getting a diagnosis is like a validation, a confirmation that what we have really is something, even though other people may have been shrugging it off.

    For many of us, getting a diagnosis is a first step towards acceptance and recovery.  As we get better, many of us move away from identifying as “a person with a diagnosis,” to “a person in recovery.”

    “I really am grateful for this program for diagnosing me for what I am. I can actually figure out what’s wrong with me every time I have an episode or if I miss my meds or something like that.” 

    A psychiatrist or psychologist can make a diagnosis, based on an assessment. They’ll ask you questions about your history and will also use standard questions to help them do the assessment. Even if you’ve already told someone else your story, a new doctor is going to want to hear your whole story from the beginning.

    Unlike other conditions and illnesses like diabetes or high cholesterol, there is no blood test to find out if you have a mental health, substance use, or addiction issue.  The psychiatrist or psychologist you meet needs you to be open and honest, no matter how hard, so they can correctly diagnose you. That way they can effectively help you going forward.

    “I think my diagnosis right now is accurate. But it took me like 3 years though before I got an accurate diagnosis.” 

    Different medications are used to treat different disorders—and some other treatments are used differently to treat different disorder, too—so if you have the wrong diagnosis, you may be getting the wrong medication!

    Getting the right diagnosis is more like an art than a science. Sometimes the doctors don’t get it right. When they figure it out, then they’ll do a better job with your treatment—so let them know if it doesn’t feel like the diagnosis or the treatment are working for your problems!

    Remember that there is no blood test for mental illness and addiction disorders–your treatment team depends on YOU to give them enough information to make the correct diagnosis.

    “If I had been more revealing with my doctors, my diagnosis wouldn’t have changed so much and I would’ve gotten the right diagnosis and the right treatment sooner.”

    Not only is it possible, it’s quite common to have several diagnoses.  For example, if you have social anxiety, you may become isolated, and then that can contribute to depression. You may have more than one addiction. Often people who have an addiction turn out to have an undiagnosed mental health concern—which may be why they were self-medicating in the first place.

    Having both a mental health disorder, like depression or anxiety, along with a substance use disorder, is so common there’s actually a name for it: “co-occurring disorder (COD)” (also known as Dual Diagnosis). If that describes you, make sure you find a therapist or provider agency that works to help you with both.

  • What should I expect from a residential treatment program?

    Short Term Programs:

    Detox: One of the first steps in recovery from drugs & alcohol is detox, which lasts typically 5 to 7 days. Detox treatment facilities specialize in treating the withdrawal symptoms that come with stopping use of drugs or alcohol. It is recommended to enter a program after detox, such as rehab or an intensive outpatient program (IOP) to avoid relapse.

    Inpatient Hospitalization: A stay in a psychiatric hospital can last from a few days to a few weeks, depending on your progress. You can be admitted for many different reasons, from medication changes to suicidal ideation. Treatment focuses on crisis management and stabilization of your mental illness. You should expect restrictions like no shoelaces (for your safety), individual & group therapy, medication management, discharge planning, and other steps to resolve urgent issues.

    “I was in the hospital for like 2 weeks, which is pretty long because the hospital sucks, but it was so necessary. It was the most necessary thing I’ve ever done. If my parents didn’t make the decision ‘she needs to be put in a psychiatric hospital, she needs that much care right now,’ I would really be dead.”

    Long Term Programs:

    Transitional Living Program– A highly structured, intensive treatment program that is typically 30 days or longer. It is designed to continue the recovery process until you are ready to return home. A transitional living program can enhance skills for independent living.

    Rehab– Usually 28 days, rehab is a structured environment where there are no drugs or alcohol available. Treatment programs try to break through denial and old thinking patterns to get you to commit to a new sober & clean lifestyle. There is typically individual counseling and group therapy. Many programs include your family in your treatment.

    Group Home– Groups homes can be “home” to a variety of young people. This includes developmentally disabled, recovering from drug & alcohol addiction, abused or neglected youth, youths with behavioral or emotional problems, etc. Usually there are required chores, curfews, and an earned privilege system.

    Sober House– A structured transitional living environment for people in recovery. Usually in between rehab and returning to your regular life, a sober house can give you the stability and support needed to transition smoothly. You should typically expect no drugs & alcohol, drug & alcohol testing, and be required to actively participate in recovery meetings and programs.


  • What should I expect from therapy?

    “Therapy will not fix your life. Therapy will not get you a job if you’re unemployed or get you into college if that’s what you want to do. But it will help you rebuild your life, your sense of self.  It will help you feel strong enough to go back to work, it will help you monitor your stress level so you can go to college, it can help you feel more comfortable being vulnerable with people who are close to you, and know how to walk away from people who you feel are toxic or not safe. Therapy will help you take better care of yourself, so you can do all the things that you want to do.” 



    Don’t expect to get any “work” done at your first session.  Don’t expect any big epiphany or anything like that.  The first session is for your therapist to get to know you, for you to tell them what you want to work on, what improvements you want to see in your life as a result of therapy.

    Most therapists will want to know your history—what your childhood was like, what your life at home is like and if there is a history of mental illness or addiction in your family.  This helps them understand where you are coming from and what has helped you in the past, and what emotional baggage you might want to work on.



    “The ones that helped me out a lot didn’t judge me, they didn’t belittle me. They tried to really help me understand who I am, what’s going on with my body, my brain.”

    “Therapy is based on a relationship, and you can’t be friends with everyone. If this person doesn’t work, you try somebody else, you try somebody else, you try somebody else. Eventually you’ll find someone you just kind of click with, and you know, and it works.” 

    It’s a good fit if you feel safe sharing and being vulnerable with the therapist. If you can’t be honest with them, they can’t help you.

    It’s a good fit if you feel comfortable asking the therapist questions and if you like the way they respond. Ask questions like “what should I expect from seeing you,” “what should I expect from treatment,” and “what goals do you think I should be setting.”

    “I let them interview me, but I’m gauging them. I give them one shot each. I know I’ve had some people tell me that maybe one appointment is not enough to make up your mind, that you have to give it a little bit more time to see, but sometimes fit is an instant thing.” 

    Most of us have worked with different therapists until we found the person who was the best fit for us.

    Sometimes you age out of a program and have to find a new therapist. Sometimes your needs may change and a therapist who was a good fit early on might not be a good fit anymore. And sometimes your therapist just isn’t a good fit to begin with.

    No matter what the reason is, remember that your provider works for you! It is their job to help you achieve and maintain wellness. If you don’t feel like you’re making progress, then it’s time to find someone else who will help you.

     “I had been seeing this therapist for three years and at first I was very happy with her, but over time, as I got better, the things that had helped me were starting to hold me back.  She had very traditional ideas about what I should be doing as a young adult.  As I got stronger, I started exploring things outside of mainstream culture, and I needed her to accept that. The therapist I have now, anytime I mention something new, she asks me if I want to incorporate that community into my support network.” 

    It might seem awkward to leave a therapist, whether you just got started or after a long time, but therapists know that it’s all about having a positive relationship and keeping things moving forward. You are entitled to explain that you are ready for a change or to try a different approach. You can even ask them for a referral, if you feel comfortable.

    Check out your insurance company’s website or one of the state resource lists to find other provider agencies near you. If you know you’d rather work with a therapist who is male, or someone who offers CBT, or who is trained to work with the LGBTQ population, that will help you identify some possible new therapists.

    The short answer is, maybe–maybe not.

    Therapy can be helpful when you’re dealing with a crisis, when you’re going through a transition, and for maintenance. If you’ve made it out of a crisis, worked your way through transition back to the life you want in your community, and have been doing well with a lower level of care, you might be thinking of cutting back on sessions–or even ending therapy altogether. That’s perfectly normal and okay.

    Remember that you will still have to deal with stressors related to school, work, relationships, and your home life. Ending therapy doesn’t mean your life will now be perfect! But hopefully therapy has helped you identify your strengths and build your coping skills, so you’ll be better able to manage things–without going back to drinking, using, cutting, or other unhealthy ways of coping. And you can still use many of the other supports you’ve been using–like your sponsor, peer and advocacy organizations, supportive services, and of course family, friends, and other people who are allies in your recovery.

    Being in recovery and staying well isn’t just about going to therapy–it’s about living a meaningful life. Having and  maintaining a strong support network in your community–even after you’ve finished therapy–can help you do that.


    “At one point, when things were going well and pretty calm, I accidentally skipped a couple of appointments with my therapist–both inside of a month!  I was so apologetic, but she said that it was perfectly normal for folks who are doing well to forget about appointments.”

    Are you happy with your life? Do you like where you are going?  Do you feel you have what you need–beyond therapy–to help you stay well, stay sober, and maintain a life of recovery?  Are you reaching out to people in your support network–like parents, friends, your peers in recovery, and other allies–when you need to?  Maybe you’re forgetting about appointments with your therapist because you’re getting the same support and feedback from other people in your life?

    You’re life doesn’t have to be problem-free to stop going to therapy–let’s face it, life will never be problem-free!  Living a life of recovery isn’t about never needing help again–it’s about recognizing the strengths you’ve had all along, building your coping skills, and knowing that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.

    If you’re thinking about ending therapy, you can talk to the people who are close to you–people you’ve been confiding in, people who know what’s been going on with you and who have been supportive of your recovery.  If they don’t understand or don’t agree, you can try to explain a little more–but remember that the final decision is yours.

  • What do I need to know about medications, and are they worth it?

    Many people who are struggling with issues such as anxiety, depression, other mental illness, or withdrawal from addiction are helped by medication. There are many types of medication, and you may find that you need more than one to help with your symptoms.

    Of course, most medications have side effects. If your doctor recommends meds, you can do your own research to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. Expect to go through a period of trial-and-error to find what works for you.

    Once you find a medication that works, take it consistently, as prescribed.

    “Half of my struggle is my behavior and my thought processes, the chemical piece is fixed. It’s just so incredible to think that taking this little pill makes me feel like myself.” 

    How long it takes for a medication to work depends on what you’ve been prescribed. You may feel the effects of ADHD meds and some anti-anxiety drugs within hours or a day. Anti-depressants may take a couple of weeks and you may not see the full effect for 5-6 weeks.

    If nothing seems to be changing after 6 weeks or so, tell your doctor so you can try something else or adjust the dosage. And of course, if things are getting worse… tell your doctor!

    It really depends on the symptoms you’re struggling with.  If it’s working, your symptoms should lessen—if you’re sleeping better, are not having racing or intrusive thoughts, are no longer hearing voices or seeing things, or are not feeling as anxious—that may be because of your medication.

    “I felt tired, hopeless, and depressed all the time.  I didn’t want to get out of bed and I didn’t want to go outside.  About two weeks after I started taking meds, I started sleeping better, I had an appetite again, and I wasn’t having racing thoughts.”

    The side effects are different depending on what medication(s) you’re taking and also on your own personal body chemistry. Ask your doctor what to expect, read the label, do your homework!

    One side effect of some meds, including anti-depressants, is that they may actually increase thoughts of suicide. If that happens, TELL SOMEONE right away!

    You may be thinking, “Why would I bother taking medication, if it could make me feel worse than before?” Psychiatric medication isn’t an exact science, but in many cases it does work.  And if you and the people on your team–your parents, close friends, doctor, therapist, and others–monitor your reaction to the medication, the necessary changes can be made right away.  The key is to report any problems to your prescriber immediately and for them be responsive.

    “The medications I was on were changing every 3 minutes. My psychiatrist prescribed this, that, that, this. The hospital prescribed this, that, that, this. Overall, I’m glad I tried everything or else I wouldn’t have find the right one. I’m glad I was willing to switch.” 

    If you tell your psychiatrist that you are still experiencing the same symptoms, your psychiatrist will probably suggest changing your medications or changing the dosage.  You may also need to change your meds if they stop working for you, which can happen after a while.

    Even when you are happy with how your meds are working, your psychiatrist may still suggest switching you to a newer medication that has better results or fewer side effects.  Your therapist or other clinician can also make suggestions for you to share with your prescriber, but remember: you are the one who has the final say in what medications you take.

    Psychiatric meds and methadone or other meds prescribed for addiction don’t “cure” you of your symptoms or your illness.  They make you feel better while you’re taking them. BUT, you may not need to be on meds “forever” in order to stay well. Some people find that once they’ve gotten stabilized, learned new coping skills, strengthened their support network, and maintained emotional wellness for a while—usually a few years—they feel able to handle their issues without meds.

    “I’ve been doing really well—I’ve gotten a lot stronger and a lot better at taking care of myself over the last seven years.  So a few months ago I talked to my psychiatrist about going off my meds, and he was very supportive. We came up with a plan to let me taper off my meds one by one. Now I’m almost done with my last medication, but I’m still going to keep seeing him every month for a while in case I have any problems.”

  • Will I feel like this forever? Will I ever get better?

    Right now you might be wishing that you could know that you would feel better. The answer is yes!  Treatment is effective, and recovery is possible.

    That doesn’t mean every day will be perfect—you are allowed to have bad days and you deserve to have good days. You will get better at preventing issues that trigger you, and you’ll also get better at dealing with stressors that you can’t avoid. You’ll learn who to call or where to go when you’re feeling like you want one more drink or one more high.

    Sometimes people feel weird about asking for help. But if you had a broken leg, you’d go to the doctor, right? So if you get help, you have a real chance of learning how to cope. One day you might even feel ready to cut back on your therapy or to taper off your meds. But if this is an indefinite part of your recovery, there is no shame in continuing to take medication and going to therapy!

    “I had a mental problem or emotional problem and I didn’t know how to deal with it, but now I think, ‘wow, that’s an experience I’ve been through and something that makes me stronger every day.’ I’m able to accomplish things even with a mental disability and go farther than most people that do not have it.” 

    If I Had Known