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Treatment for a mental health issue like anxiety, depression, or addiction typically begins with a phone call. Whether it is made by the individual seeking treatment or a concerned family member in need of support, this first call is critical to getting help; but it also can seem scary when you don’t know what it might entail.
For help demystifying what a typical first call is like, we turned to FHE Health Director of Admissions Donny Martinelli. Martinelli leads the FHE team of admissions counselors who answer calls 24/7, 365 days a year. In a recent interview, he answered many commonly asked questions about what a “typical” admissions call is like.
Who Are the People Answering the Phone?
A quality treatment center will have counselors on site who are there to answer the calls of prospective patients and loved ones. Their job is to listen, answer treatment-related questions, offer intervention supports, and provide guidance about next steps in treatment. Their job is also “to help people get the appropriate treatment in the right facility,” Martinelli said.
Martinelli went on to explain that it takes a certain type of person to do this type of job. Speaking of his team, he said “they are people who have experience or have loved ones with substance abuse or mental health issues and have a calling to help others.”
What, specifically, is their calling? “Their calling and purpose are to help people find those same opportunities that helped them or a loved one.”
Barriers That Keep People from Seeking Help and How Counselors Help
If accessing help for mental health issues begins with a call, what are some barriers that keep people from calling? Financial concerns, worries about job security, stigma, caregiving responsibilities, and travel questions can all be disincentives to call, according to Martinelli, He noted that admissions counselors are sensitive to these issues and know how to address them when they arise.
Financial Concerns and Worries About Job Security
Take, for example, the common concern about how to afford treatment. If a person calls in and is quick to mention financial concerns, Martinelli said he and his team try to meet them where they are while offering the reassurance that they may be “worrying about something that isn’t a concern yet.” The more immediate concern, as Martinelli described it: “Before we can afford it, we’re worried about whether we’re the right treatment facility for you and how to address these issues.”
The same is true if a person has insurance: “We don’t know what their liabilities are, and the big focus is making sure we’re the appropriate facility for you,” Martinelli said.
Sometimes a caller will express the worry that they could lose their job if they are going to be out of work for a month. In these cases, Martinelli and his team of counselors “explain the Family Medical Leave Act and federal job protections that can keep a prospective patient from losing their position.”
Caregiving responsibilities and the logistics of arranging for care in one’s absence can be another barrier to seeking help for addiction and other mental health issues. By way of example, Martinelli echoed a common quandary: “Who is going to watch my kids if I’m a mother?”
When caregiving questions arise, counselors take a supportive stance. They offer the reassurance that “when you’re in need of treatment, most people will jump in and do what they need to do, so you can go back to being the mom you’re meant to be.”
When travel is a concern, “we explain that if, God forbid, you had cancer, wouldn’t you want to go to the best place possible? That may mean going out of state to a nationally recognized facility like FHE Health.”
Often when people “don’t want other people to know” that they are seeking treatment for a drug or alcohol problem or other mental health issue, they are operating according to a misconception that other people don’t already know what is going on, according to Martinelli. Actually, though, “most people know something is going on and are relieved when you reach out for help.”
How Quick Can Someone Get into Treatment After They Call?
“Within the same day or within 24 hours,” Martinelli said, assuming they are local. An admissions counselor will “facilitate everything if they are local.”
If the person is from another state, their counselor can “guide them to help them find a flight if they are not computer-savvy,” Martinelli said. “We also send them a packing list.”
Typical Structure of Call?
In our conversation with Martinelli, the only thing that emerged as “typical” about an admissions call is that it prioritizes the specific questions and concerns of the caller. Each call is about “meeting people where they are.” In this sense, no two calls are totally alike.
Naturally, the counselor will want to find out “if the person calling is calling for themselves or a loved one, since that guides the direction of the conversation.”
Also, “we’re going to ask the person what prompted the phone call, so we know what help they’re looking for,” Martinelli explained. “This helps us explore whether we are the appropriate facility for them.”
After the counselor has collected insurance or self-payment information, they do a “structured assessment”:
This helps us get information like medical, psychiatric, demographics, employment, current meds, treatment history, etc., to find out more about their specific concerns and issues so we can address these concerns and issues. We then produce a summary for them to read.
“Building trust and rapport” is another important aspect of the call, Martinelli said, especially when “people have preconceptions about what treatment is and think of it as a hospital or lockdown when it’s not.”
If a person calls in and does not feel ready to enter treatment, they can receive daily follow-up support calls via text, email, and/or phone.
What Every Caller Can Benefit from Knowing?
What does Martinelli wish every caller knew? “That where they are in the moment when they are making that phone call can be the last time that they ever feel that way.”
Those words come from personal experience and what Martinelli has described as the “most rewarding part of this job: When I get a surprise phone call or email one year later and someone says, ‘I’m doing great and can’t thank you enough.’ Those correspondences just bolster our sense of purpose and serve to remind us that what we’re doing has meaning to it.”