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5 Tips To Start a Conversation About Getting Mental Health Care

Image of 5 Tips To Start a Conversation About Getting Mental Health Care. Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Cain, 18th Wing Erwin PME Center commandant, poses for a photo during the 2nd Annual Mental Health Awareness Walk at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 7, 2023. During the opening remarks of the event, Cain shared stories of adversity he experienced in his life and how he has grown as a leader from them. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Yosselin Campos)

“How are you?” It’s a question almost everyone answers every day. Like most, your usual response is probably, “Fine, thanks. How are you?”

But if you really think about it, are you fine? Maybe you haven’t been yourself in a while. You’re feeling sad, stressed, lonely, or just not how you want to feel. You’d like to start feeling better but aren’t sure where to start.

“You might not know what you need or where to begin, but just start by asking questions,” said Dr. Krystyna Bienia, clinical psychologist and senior policy analyst at the Defense Health Agency. “TRICARE covers a wide range of mental health and support services to help you.”

Bienia added that if you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide, don’t wait to get help. Anyone can call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in the U.S. Dial 988 and choose option 1 to connect with the Military Crisis Line. The crisis line is free and available 24/7 to help you through a crisis and connect you with mental health resources.

What’s one of the first steps to get help? Service members can reach out to their command leadership. And everyone—service members, retirees, family members—has an initial contact: their health care provider. The National Institute of Mental Health says to reach out to your primary care manager (PCM). Your PCM is trained to talk with you about your concerns and get you linked with a plan to get back on track. Make an appointment to start the conversation.

Bienia offers these tips for talking with your PCM about your mental health.

Tip #1: Write down your thoughts and feelings

Sometimes it’s hard to explain what’s going on inside, especially if you aren’t feeling like yourself. Before your appointment, write down the feelings you’ve been having, when they started, and how they’re affecting your day-to-day life. By writing down what you’re experiencing, you’ll feel better prepared to meet with your PCM.

Tip #2: Just start talking

Once you see your PCM, remember, you don’t have to have the “right words”—just start talking. Tell your PCM how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. Your PCM will help you piece together what you’re saying to help decide on next steps that are right for you.

Tip #3: Ask questions

Your provider is your partner to get a plan in place to start addressing your concerns. Based on your conversation, ask any questions you think of. The questions you ask will guide your plan. For instance, your PCM may suggest speaking to a mental health provider—a certified social worker, clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist—who can work with you individually or in a group. Your PCM might also suggest a medication. Either way, ask what your options are and the benefits and risks of each.

Tip #4: Be open to other resources

If your provider doesn’t think you need to see a mental health provider, they might suggest getting help through non-clinical resources. You can find resources through your service or community, chaplains, family-life counselors, support groups, and Military OneSource.

Tip #5: Welcome the changes that unfold

Be open to what the process holds in store. It may not be easy, but hang in there and believe you can get to where you want to be.

“Reaching out to a health care provider is important because mental health issues can lead to other health conditions,” said Bienia. “Your PCM is able to help you with those aspects of your health and well-being.”

If you need help finding a provider, you can use Find a Doctor. You can also reach out to your TRICARE regional contractor for help.

So, the next time you’re asked how you’re doing, respond honestly. And use these tips to start a conversation with your provider. You can also explore mental health services TRICARE covers. Remember, you are not alone, and you don’t have to be in crisis to ask for help.

Would you like the latest TRICARE news sent to you by email? Visit TRICARE Subscriptions, and create your personalized profile to get benefit updates, news, and more.

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