8 Ways to Take Care of Yourself When You’re Waiting for Mental Health Care
By Cassie Shortsleeve
Deciding to see a mental health professional is a good step to feeling better and a great way to get support. Sometimes, though, it takes a while to find a provider, you have to wait to make an appointment, or your first appointment is weeks away. That can feel frustrating, especially when you are ready for change and help now. It can also be scary if you are seeking support for suicidal thoughts.
The good news is that there are concrete things you can do now—and other ways to get support—that can bridge the gap between deciding to seek mental health care and beginning to work with someone.
Know What to Do If You Need Immediate Help
You can have a free, confidential talk with a trained counselor any time of day by texting HOME to 741-741.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a suicide, mental health, or substance misuse crisis, you can call or text the new Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.
Make a Safety Plan
Putting together a list of coping strategies and people you can turn to in moments of need—aka a safety plan—is good practice for anyone. Making one can also help you figure out triggers for suicidal thoughts if you are having them, and help keep you safe in moments of crisis.
Make one on your own or visit a website like My Safety Plan, which offers a template.
Rely on a Trusted Adult
While you wait to talk to a professional, think about people in your life who you trust. Opening up about stress and sharing your concerns helps you problem-solve. Having even one adult in whom you can confide can make a huge difference. Ideally it would be someone who makes you feel seen, heard, and understood.
Connect with People Who Have Been There
Learning about others who have gotten through hard times can help you both feel less alone and find a community.
Now Matters Now, a website with stories and tips for managing painful moments has a “young ambassadors” section full of young people sharing their experiences with mental health struggles and how they overcame them.
You can also find online support systems at:
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness’s Peer-to-Peer groups, which offer eight free educational sessions for adults with mental health conditions.
- The Trevor Project’s online community.
Learn—and Then Practice—Coping Skills
If you’ve ever been to therapy, you likely know there’s often homework: skills to practice on your own. This is important because, while it’s great to talk with someone, it’s also important to have coping strategies and skills to turn to when you need them.
While you wait for an appointment, download an app like:
- CBT-i: This app helps you keep tabs on your sleep, which is a big part of mental health. You’ll learn how to improve your sleep environment and go through a program full of strategies to help you fall asleep faster and overcome issues like insomnia.
- Self-Help App for the Mind (SAM): Specifically designed for anxiety, this app has a symptom tracker (to help you track how you’re feeling), articles to help you learn about mental health, and relaxation techniques and games (tensing and relaxation exercises and guided breathwork, for example).
- Headspace: This popular meditation app with hundreds of meditation and mindfulness activities is free for all teenagers ages 13 to 18 in the U.S.
- Calm: Calm is full of meditations and exercises that help lower stress and anxiety. It also has a fun feature called “sleep stories” — bedtime stories that help you fall asleep more easily (sometimes read by celebs like Harry Styles). Calm isn’t free, but it offers a free trial period.
Put Your Health First
Taking care of yourself matters. One of the most important things you can do to take care of your mental health is keep your sleep schedule as regular as possible, meaning waking up and going to bed around the same times as best you can and getting enough sleep (ideally between nine and 10 hours a night, but at least eight). Exercise and positive social interactions matter too. Both can give you a lift, and you can easily work them into your daily routine—sometimes even at the same time! Take a walk or a bike ride with a friend (or call a friend while on your walk), dance in your room with your sibling, or join a local swim running club.
Remember That Things Can Change and Improve
When you’re really struggling, it can be hard to have faith that it will get better. But the reality is that you will not always feel the way you do today. Emotions change and pass. Connecting with others, taking advantage of free resources, and learning coping skills can help you feel better and more hopeful. Pick at least three things on this list and try them.