There are two basic ways people go acquiring their mental health needs.
The predominant way is to seek help only once your situation has become problematic. This is what people in the field refer to as “crisis-driven.” Scandinavian countries have even constructed a mental health system around the basic fact that when people reach out for help, it is usually as a last resort. The model over there is to compile a team of mental health experts to administer an immediate, comprehensive, and intensive intervention, utilizing the client’s family as the main agent in creating a stable, sustainable environment.
Unfortunately, in the United States, the people who need immediate help are often forced to wait for weeks or months on end. This includes the poor, disabled, or elderly (i.e., Medicaid and Medicare) who on average suffer from more acute environmental traumas and are, as such, typically in need of fast help; it includes those with an insurance plan that covers therapy, but in areas where the network is inundated; and it includes people whose insurance does not cover therapy and who cannot afford private-practice rates.
The second way people acquire their basic mental health needs is becoming more prevalent. The idea is one of prevention instead of reaction. I think our culture is beginning to develop an appreciation for the preventative approach not only in mental health but in other health-related fields, like in physical health with diet and exercise.
Now, there are many reasons the preventative approach has traditionally been less popular, but one of the reasons, I think, is that it goes against human nature to fix a problem before it arises. Except, what if we thought about mental health not as a problem to be solved, but rather a capacity to be developed? Then even the idea of prevention is not quite right. It’s more like practice. It’s more like exploration. In an ideal world, you would not think of your job as solving the future problem of having to pay for things like a wedding, house, children, and retirement. Ideally you think of a job as the beginning of a career that will allow you to engage with meaningful work. Same thing with mental health.
As a final note, the idea of early exploration also solves many of the inefficiencies arising from the managed care model. If you begin your therapeutic search now, you can afford to “shop around” for your therapy and therapist, instead of waiting until you need to see someone today and realizing that the process may take weeks or months.