How to Access the Right Care

Finding the right mental health care for you and your family can be a daunting task. Where you go for help to find the right mental health care depends on the age of the person experiencing mental health signs and symptoms and the nature of the condition and/or symptoms. The best place to start is often your primary care physician. Below are other suggested resources.  

  • Your local health department’s Mental Health Division or local Mental Health Association
  • Other local or national mental health organizations, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • Clergyperson
  • Family services agencies, such as Catholic Charities, Family Services or Jewish Social Services
  • Educational consultants or school counselors
  • Marriage and family counselors
  • Child guidance counselors
  • Psychiatric hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations
  • Professional associations that have directories of mental health providers, such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
  • Your health insurance company
  • Your trusted friends or family members
  • Your company’s employee assistance program
  • Hotlines, crisis centers and emergency rooms
  • Psychologists and psychiatrists
  • Social service/community services organizations

Levels of Care

Before receiving treatment for mental health care, it’s important to understand what the most appropriate level of care is based on the severity of each case  to ensure successful help/treatment. For example, telehealth (the use of digital information and communication technologies, such as computers and mobile devices, to access health care services remotely and manage your health care) and text-based services (online therapy that lets you connect with a licensed therapist from the privacy of your device via text message — at a significantly lower cost than traditional, in-person therapy) may not be appropriate for a case that would require an inpatient type of care. However, they may be appropriate when in-person/face-to-face, scheduled visits aren’t required or possible for ongoing treatment.

Here are the appropriate levels of mental health care from lowest to highest:

Outpatient Care

  • 12-Step Programs (community-based and free): includes programs like Depressed Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); are typically very useful when trying to achieve optimal mental health; allow opportunity for contact with individuals with many years of recovery; and offer support and strategies for a successful recovery
  • Routine Outpatient Care (ROC): consists of three types of care – individual counseling, which includes counseling sessions with a therapist; medication evaluation and management, which includes visits with a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner to determine if medication would be helpful; and group therapy, which includes weekly group sessions with other people with mental health issues and often learning from one another’s experiences
  • Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP): includes structured treatment that teaches how to manage stress and better cope with emotional and behavioral issues so individuals may work and continue with normal daily routines, with the advantage of having the support of the program, along with other people working on similar issues; may include group, individual and family therapy when appropriate; and consists of frequent visits (usually three to five days per week) and an average of three to four hours of treatment per day for a set period of time (often four to six weeks, depending on the program)
  • Partial Hospitalization: includes an intense structured program; typically consists of five to seven days per week for six hours each day; similar to IOP, includes group, individual and family therapy when appropriate; often includes an evaluation by a psychiatrist, who may prescribe or adjust medications; often recommended for those who have actively participated in lower levels of care, yet continue to experience serious emotional and behavioral problems; and beneficial for those at risk of hospitalization or as a step-down for those who have been hospitalized

Inpatient Care

  • Inpatient Acute Care: intended for people who need 24-hour care and daily doctor visits in a hospital setting to stabilize psychiatric issues; often recommended for people who aren’t able to care for themselves or may be a risk to the safety and well-being of themselves or others; can last for a few days; aims to stabilize a crisis; may include group therapy and meeting with a team of professionals, including a psychiatrist; and a family session is important prior to discharge to discuss aftercare plans
  • Inpatient Residential: should only be considered when all available and appropriate outpatient approaches, including intensive outpatient treatment and partial, have been tried first; intended to be a short-term placement to stabilize the person until they can return to the community; treatment should be as close to the person’s home as possible; intended for people who do not need medical attention; not appropriate for people who are unmotivated for change and recovery; primary treatment offered is group, individual and family therapy in a supportive environment; should include weekly family therapy

When to Consider a Higher Level of Care

A higher level of care should be considered in the following situations: when a current lower level of care (such as outpatient treatment) isn’t able to address the needs of the person receiving treatment and if a person’s level of functioning continues to decrease, even though they have been actively participating in a lower level of care.


“Mental Illness And The Family: Finding The Right Mental Health Care For You,” Mental Health America,, accessed Dec. 16, 2020.

Mental health providers: Tips on finding one,” Mayo Clinic Staff,, May 16, 2017.

“Levels of Mental Health Care Descriptions (Lowest to Highest),” Cigna, accessed Jan. 5, 2021.