By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Demand for mental health services is sky-high right now. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2021 COVID-19 Practitioner Survey, 43% of practitioners reported an increase in workloads and waitlists in 2020.

At the same time providers can’t keep up. At Arubah Emotional Health Services in North Minneapolis, only four out of 10 people who inquire about services eventually become patients.

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“For the most part, it’s hard to access services and hard to get an appointment,” says Anissa Keyes, a licensed social worker and LMFT who owns Arubah. “It’s overwhelming.”

But, she says she’s doesn’t want people to give up or not receive the care they need. She offered her advice on where to start the journey of finding the right mental health provider.

“The first place, and the place most people go, is their circle,” she said. “Typically when we get referrals, it’s a friend, family or church member, community member, somebody who knows somebody.”

For people who aren’t comfortable asking those closest to them, Keyes suggests reaching out to a grief group, healing circle or local community support group that can often be found in a Google search.

“Once you get into the group, you can build rapport with people, you can feel more connected,” she said. “It’s a safer way to enter into receiving that support.”

Experts also recommend reaching out to a person’s health insurance company, which can provide a list of local in-network providers. Also, connect with an employer’s human resources department to see if there’s an Employee Assistance Plan that offers free mental health provider visits as a benefit.

If insurance isn’t cooperating, some clinicians offer sliding scales. And, generally, a portion of out-of-network treatment will be covered under a health plan.

“It’s not a straight-forward process because a lot of what makes it a success is that you have a provider that you can trust and they have the skills and ability to help you get better,” said Dr. Vaile Wright, senior director of healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association. “It can be a trial and error process.”

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Minnesota recommends people search for a provider at Fast-Tracker, a healthcare resource developed by the Minnesota Mental Health Community Foundation. This site also offers information on how to reach suicide prevention and crisis hotlines.

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The American Psychologist Association has a provider locator on its website.

Keyes and Dr. Wright both recommend the search tools on the Psychology Today directory. There people can filter for location, insurance, type of therapy and more.

“You can literally look through a list of providers and say I want someone who is going to be sensitive to this particular need or I want someone of color,” Keyes said. “You can say I want someone in the gay and lesbian community or I want someone really familiar with adoption.”

She recommends interviewing therapists to see what might be the best fit. Most will offer a free consultation.

As for seeking a licensed social worker or therapist or psychologist or psychiatrist, Dr. Wright says unless a person is seeking medication, those titles shouldn’t matter.

“It’s about fit and experience,” said Dr. Wright, a psychologist.” Those things are more important than the level of degree.”

Keyes said people should expect a waitlist, especially if they are searching for specific parameters when it comes to providers.

“If you say I need them to be Black, you should expect a waitlist,” Keyes said. “Or if you need them to be familiar with teens, you should probably expect a waitlist.”

Keyes said people who keep encountering waitlists should consider expanding their search and removing some of those parameters.

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“What we know is that a lot of that stuff doesn’t matter and what’s actually most important is the relationship,” she said “Most providers can support you, especially clients who really need it.”

Heather Brown