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To your mental health

Welcome to a new series dedicated to taking care of ourselves and supporting fellow Roadrunners.

By Lindsey Coulter

November 19, 2020

Close up of hands on a table during a counseling session.The convergence of the changing season, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the approach of the winter holidays offers a great opportunity to talk about mental health. To encourage wellness, self-care and community-care through the holiday season and beyond, the Metropolitan State University of Denver Human Resources team and the Health Center at Auraria are kicking off a new mental health and wellness series, beginning with how to access mental health support.

“In this time of increased stress and uncertainty, discussions about mental health have really come to the fore,” said Justin Hauxwell, M.D., psychiatrist and family doctor, at the Health Center at Auraria. “Sometimes people can feel a sense of shame, embarrassment, judgment, or failure around things related to mental health, and this can prevent their accessing necessary help. It’s important to know that mental health concerns are common, and there are resources available to help people get the support and treatment that can lead to an improved quality of life.”

The MSU Denver Counseling Center offers confidential ongoing counseling services for students; however, for faculty and staff the Center offers one-time confidential intervention, assessment and consultation services to determine an appropriate referral to a community provider or an assistance program. However, seeking mental health care can be daunting, especially if you’re not sure about the difference between a therapist, counselor, psychologist and psychiatrist. There is also the question of medication vs. talk therapy, or both.

“When, where, and how you access care can look different depending on whether you’re in an acute crisis,” Hauxwell explained. “If you need immediate help, call 911 and mention that you’re having a mental health emergency; go to an Emergency Room; or go to a Crisis Walk-In Center, which are smaller, free-standing facilities intended to stabilize people in crisis and avoid full hospitalization.” 

Those who are not experiencing an acute crisis can schedule a visit with a mental health professional. Here are some topics to consider before your first visit to ensure you connect with the right provider:


“Before asking specific treatment-related questions, start with practical questions to assess costs and insurance coverage,” said Alyssa Labate, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at the Health Center at Auraria. “Ask what types of insurances (the provider) accepts and whether they accept billing to or payment from the insurance company.”

Labate added that the provider may ask you to double-check coverage with your specific insurance plan to avoid billing surprises. If the provider does not accept or bill insurance, confirm their fees and ask about sliding-scale fee policies.


Many (providers) offer brief introduction calls free of cost. Labate advises those seeking services to ask about the provider’s training, time in the field, therapy style, types of treatment models used, etc.

“Also, consider giving a brief overview of what you are experiencing. For example, ‘I have been feeling (anxious, sad, etc.) and/or I'm having difficulties with (my job, my relationship, sleeping, etc.),’” she said. “Ask what experience they have helping people with these types of challenges and what treatment models … have proven effective for dealing with (your) concern.”

Care expectations

Assess your interaction with the provider and how it makes you feel.

“Therapy is a personal experience and while you may sometimes talk about uncomfortable things, feeling comfortable with who you are sharing with is essential,” Labate said. “Choose a therapist who you feel respects your individuality, opinions and self.”

Labate notes that the first appointment, or intake appointment, with a therapist or counselor will start with paperwork related to demographics, payment/insurance information and rating your symptoms to get a clearer picture of your need. The provider will often gather information about what brought you in, your goals for treatment and your medical/family/social history (your childhood, education, social relationships/supports, current living situation, career, etc.).

“After the initial appointment, the clinician will have a beginning understanding of who you are as a person and what is important to you,” Labate said. “The mind is complex. Depending on the person and symptoms, it may take several appointments to gather the information needed to formulate a diagnosis (if applicable) and individualize a treatment plan.”

Hauxwell adds that some mental health conditions respond well to talk therapy alone and won’t require prescription medications, while others respond best to some combination of talk therapy and prescription medication.

“Each person’s situation is unique,” Hauxwell said. “Some general lifestyle and self-care components — such as eating a healthy diet; maintaining a regular exercise routine; and getting consistent and adequate sleep — will provide benefits for most mental health conditions, whether or not one is in therapy or taking prescription medication.”

More information

To learn more about common types of mental health professionals, popular and effective types of therapy, how to seek treatment during a crisis, prescription medications, and non-medication treatment options, visit the National Institute of Mental Health website or the National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Contact the MSU Denver Counseling Center, 303-615-9988 to schedule a consultation.

Topics: Community, Health, Human Resources, Mental Health

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