Symptoms associated with mental health conditions, such as continuous sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, guilt, hyperactivity, and racing thoughts, may lead you to explore mental health treatment options for yourself or someone you love. Whether you are new to treatment or exploring other options, it can be helpful to know how mental health conditions are treated, what types of providers might be available to help you, and how you can benefit from various treatments.

There are many different options to treat depression and bipolar disorder, but generally, people seek combinations of psychotherapy and psychosocial treatments, peer support, medications, and personal wellness plans. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines “health” as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Mental health treatment aims to reduce symptoms and enhance wellness.

At DBSA, we believe that everyone’s path to wellness is unique. What works well for you may not work well for someone else. This is why it is so important as a consumer of mental health services that you are aware of what options are available to you. Mental health is important for everyone. Seeking treatment when you notice things aren’t feeling right is the best thing that you can do for yourself. Seeking treatment is not a sign of weakness or failure, but rather a show of great strength and that you care for yourself and those that love you.

On this page:

Seeking Mental Health Treatment for the First Time

Mental health treatment or referral often begins in your primary care doctor’s office. Primary care providers are doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurses that you see for routine care, such as an annual physical, or managing medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. These providers often screen for mental health conditions. Often, when describing symptoms to a primary care provider, if they cannot find a physical health cause, they may refer you to mental health treatment. Mental health symptoms can show up in ways you might not expect such as physical pain or discomfort, chronic fatigue, and high or low energy levels.

Supporting Loved Ones

If someone you love or care for seems to need treatment, know that you have a role to play in offering support but the person receiving treatment should be the final decision-maker about what types of treatment will or will not work for them. Even children should be included in the decision-making processes where developmentally appropriate.

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Choosing the Right Type of Health Care Provider

Finding the right mental health care provider can be a challenging process. To get a better sense of what you seek in a provider, it may help to answer some questions about your needs. Remember, it is always okay to switch providers and find one that is going to work best for you. Especially when it comes to psychotherapy, you should seek a provider you trust and connect with so you can bring your most honest self to your therapeutic work. Here are some questions to consider as you begin to look for a health care  provider:

  • What are the main things you want help with?
  • Do you want to talk to someone about your current concerns or issues?
  • Do you have questions or concerns about taking medication?
  • What has your physical and mental health history been like?
  • How will you pay for treatment (e.g., what will your health insurance cover)?

Who Provides Mental Health Treatment?

There are different types of professionals who provide mental health treatment. Determining which type of provider to work with can be challenging, but understanding different types of providers can help.

Psychiatrists (MD, DO) are medical doctors who specialize in the medical treatment of mental health conditions. Like other physicians, they have completed medical school but then go through advanced training to appropriately manage psychiatric disorders. Psychiatrists can assess both mental and physical health problems,  and often your work with them will involve being prescribed medication. Some psychiatrists also provide psychotherapy.

Psychologists (Ph.D., Psy.D.) are doctors who specialize in mental health and have received advanced training in various therapeutic methods. These doctors are not able to prescribe medications in most states. Psychologists may provide one-on-one therapy and may work in different modalities such as with couples, families, and groups.

Advanced Practice RNs, Nurse Practitioners, and Physicians Assistants (RN, CNP, DNP, PA-C) are professional degrees in health care based in nursing and medicine. These providers educate, diagnose, and prescribe treatments under the direct supervision of a physician or without physician oversight.

Social Workers (DSW, MSW, LCSW, LICSW, LMSW, LSW) are professionals, some of whom specialize in mental health and are trained in various therapeutic methods. Social workers, unlike other professionals, integrate a social justice lens within their work. Social workers may practice one-on-one therapy and may work with couples, families, and groups.

Counselors (MA, MS, LMFT, LPC, LCPC, M.Ed.) are professionals who specialize in mental health and are trained in various therapeutic methods. Counselors may practice one-on-one therapy and may work in different modalities such as with couples, families, and groups.

Finding Care

There are many different types of mental health specialists who provide therapy. Looking for a therapist can be challenging, so consider using the following resources to support your search.

Talk to your Primary Care Doctor

If you notice something feels different with your mood or are having a challenging time doing things that once felt manageable, you may want to start the conversation with your primary care doctor. This doctor will likely be able to provide you with a referral to treatment.

Contact Your Insurance

Your insurance company should be able to help you find a provider that is in your insurance network. Calling the number on the back of your insurance card may be a good place to start.

Employee Assistant Programs (EAPs)

If your health care is provided by your employer, you may have an employee assistance program. Consult with your HR department, which can help get you connected to your EAP program. EAP works by offering a screening over the phone and then providing a referral to mental health services.

Search Online

While it may be difficult to find a therapist online, there are certain search tools that can help make it easier. Psychology Today has a free search tool that can help you locate providers in your neighborhood. Providers on this website list their specialties, so this can be helpful to find care that will meet your needs.

Find the right therapist for you


Therapy can be an important part of treatment for depression, bipolar disorder, or any other mental health condition. Good therapy can help you process feelings, teach coping skills, and help you to find wellness strategies that can reduce symptoms and improve your overall mental health. Find out how to get the most out of your therapy experience, types of therapy, and how to go about finding a therapist.

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Medications for Depression and Bipolar Disorder

There are many safe and effective medications that may be prescribed to treat symptoms of a mood disorder. Remember, no two people are alike, and therefore it may take some time to find the right medication and dosage that will work best for you.

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Brain Stimulation and Other Technology Therapies

Treatment for depression or bipolar disorder often includes 4 basic elements: talk therapy, medication, peer support, and a personal wellness plan. But sometimes, these aren’t enough. Fortunately, there are several other biological treatments currently in use that have been shown to help reduce mood disorder symptoms.

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Supporting Treatment

Treating depression and bipolar disorder with different therapies and medication is often only part of the journey. And because everyone’s path to wellness is unique, it’s important to look at other ways to support your mental health.

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Communicating with Your Health Care Provider

Collaborating with your health care providers (HCPs) can be very helpful in working toward achieving your wellness. You and your HCP should have a partnership in which you both have input and open lines of communication. A good health care provider pays attention to your needs, goals, and background.

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Misdiagnosis and Taking Charge of Your Care

Diagnosis is an integral part of treating a mental health condition, but sometimes finding the correct one can be a challenging process. In this session we will focus on how mood disorder diagnoses are made, factors that lead to misdiagnosis, and ways peers can take an active role in their mental health care.

In this video:

  • How mood disorders are diagnosed.
  • Common mood disorder misdiagnoses.
  • Ways to take an active role in your treatment.

Featured Speakers:

  • Roger McIntyre, MD, FRCPC Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, University of Toronto, Canada Head, Mood Disorders Psychopharmacology Unit Toronto, Canada
  • Mark A. Frye, MD Stephen & Shelly Jackson Family Professorship in Individualized Medicine Mayo Clinic Rochester, MN