Dual Diagnosis Mental Health Treatment: How to Get the Care You Need

Last updated on May 30th, 2024 at 07:50 pm

Getting a dual diagnosis can be both scary and a relief. While you might not be thrilled to know you have multiple mental or behavioral health challenges, you may also feel relieved to be able to finally put a name to what you’re experiencing and to know there are steps you can take to improve your life. What’s more, you might be surprised to find out how many other people are going through something similar.

Recovery from a dual diagnosis isn’t always easy, but it’s doable with the right treatment program. You’re not alone, and a much better life is awaiting you soon!

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis means a person has been diagnosed with both a mental health disorder and a behavioral health disorder, which is usually a drug or alcohol-related problem. For example, a person might be struggling with both depression and alcohol abuse, or with both schizophrenia and opioid dependency. 

How Common is Dual Diagnosis in Mental Health?

Dual diagnoses are fairly common. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly half of all people who have mental health disorders are likely to have a substance use disorder at some point in their lives and vice versa.

Mental Health and Substance Use

Many people who are struggling with substance use also have unresolved mental health issues or trauma. Often, the mental health issue led to the behavioral health issue (or the other way around.) Depression is the most common mental health disorder linked to substance abuse, but there is a long list of other commonly linked conditions, including anxiety, PTSD, OCD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. 

It’s important to acknowledge all conditions, including both mental and behavioral health conditions, to effectively treat any of the issues a person is experiencing. Dual diagnosis treatment takes the psychological aspects of addiction into account, which allows you to improve your mental health and more effectively tackle the substance use issue.

The Dual Diagnosis Treatment Model

The dual diagnosis treatment model identifies the psychological factors that trigger substance abuse, which often starts as a form of self-medication. Many people with mental health conditions who aren’t getting the care they need turn to alcohol or drugs to relieve their symptoms, and the substance issue ultimately ends up adding to their mental health issues. To break the cycle, the first step is awareness of what’s going on.

One of the primary benefits of dual diagnosis treatment is that it gets to the root cause of addictive behavior. Without addressing underlying mental and emotional issues, the person is likely to be triggered to use again. When an individual learns how to control the problems that currently have control over them and to recognize potential triggers, their providers can help them develop a personalized plan to limit the possibility of relapse.

Effective dual diagnosis treatment integrates both disorders during the recovery process rather than working on each condition separately. This approach recognizes how closely integrated the conditions are. A dual diagnosis program often targets common symptoms, such as lack of impulse control, poor mood, and nervousness, while also inspiring incentives for change and helping patients find their own rewards that motivate recovery.

Both mental and behavioral health professionals are involved in dual diagnosis treatment. They work together with the patient to create a plan, guide treatment, and monitor progress. 

Effective Mental and Behavioral Health Treatment Options

Treatments vary depending on the program but often include a combination of individual therapy, family counseling, mutual support groups, and holistic treatments such as meditation or nutrition. 

Often, people who participate in dual diagnosis treatment programs learn skills that can help them in real-world situations, such as practical techniques for making more satisfying life choices and navigating personal relationships. Steps toward recovery include creating strategies to help improve relationships with loved ones and feel better overall. As the person’s behavior begins to change, they experience boosted confidence, which helps them make even more positive changes.

Multiple scientific studies have proven that integrated, dual diagnosis treatment results in:

  • Fewer hospitalizations
  • A reduction of substance use
  • Better functioning
  • A higher quality of life

In an analysis of treatment results from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Psychiatric and Chemical Dependency Services, dual diagnosis treatment was found to be “consistently superior” to treating individual disorders with separate treatment plans. 

Dual diagnosis treatment can generally be broken down into two overarching categories: outpatient and inpatient treatment.

Outpatient Mental and Behavioral Health Treatment

Outpatient treatment is a broad category for mental and behavioral health services that do not require a prolonged stay in a hospital or residential treatment center. The patient may continue working and living their regular life, although they will attend regular treatment sessions. Outpatient treatment is recommended in cases when it is healthier for the patient to continue to experience their usual stressors so they can learn to cope in their current environment with professional guidance.

Some outpatient programs are more intensive than others. They may require daily or weekly participation in treatment sessions such as group therapy, individual counseling, DBT therapy, and education programs. Community health service programs that offer outpatient treatment often include medication management as well as mental and behavioral health care. 

Outpatient care is the most common treatment model for many mental and behavioral health problems due to its lower cost, better flexibility for patient needs and schedules, and a more extensive selection of providers. However, it is not the most effective approach for every patient.

Inpatient or Residential Mental and Behavioral Health Treatment

Inpatient treatment is a category of treatment options where patients check themselves into a mental or behavioral health facility to be in the direct care of medical professionals for round-the-clock medical and emotional support. Inpatient treatment is often recommended for patients who have a history of relapse, who are in danger of harming themselves or others, or whose living situation triggers them. Usually, inpatient treatment is a starting point to help patients get to a point where outpatient treatment can be successful.

Inpatients are usually held to a strictly regimented schedule, waking up, eating, and performing activities at the same time each day. This support system attempts to remove stressors and provide a safe and controlled environment where the patient can grow and address problems. 

A consultation with a mental health professional is needed to determine if a patient needs the higher level of support and care that comes with inpatient treatment. While the higher level of care may be necessary in some cases, this treatment style is disruptive and requires a total commitment of anywhere between a week and several months. 

Hospital Treatment

People who experience acute illness sometimes require substance use-related treatment services that are only available at a hospital — either a psychiatric hospital or a more general hospital that treats behavioral and mental health issues. If you seek help with drug detoxification, you may need to check into a hospital.

Residential Behavioral Health Treatment Centers

Residential behavioral health treatment centers are live-in facilities where patients can stay to receive treatment. They are typically privately owned and may involve stays of several weeks or longer. Some centers are dedicated to substance use disorder treatment, while others specialize in severe mental illness or dual diagnosis.

Mental Health Home Care

Mental health home care is an option for elderly or disabled people who need ongoing support for daily living tasks as well as mental and/or behavioral health conditions. Some home care providers are trained to work with patients who have serious mental and behavioral health issues and provide some of the support of full inpatient treatment. Home care providers can also provide companionship, assist with organizing schedules, and help with medications.

How to Get Mental and Behavioral Healthcare

If you are looking for mental and behavioral healthcare options in the Puget Sound Region, we encourage you to reach out to Sunrise Services, Inc. Our organization helps people find mental health services, benefits, and local community supports. 

We care for each individual and offer genuine compassion and hope. When you need someone to turn to for mental health care during COVID-19 and beyond, you can reach out to our team of compassionate professionals. We have been helping individuals in our community with mental and behavioral health diagnoses for nearly 40 years. 

Can I Afford Mental Health Services?

Many people worry that they cannot afford the care they need. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources out there to help you afford mental health care, regardless of whether you have insurance. 

Affordable Mental and Behavioral Health Care Options

  • In-network care. If you have health insurance, it may cover some mental healthcare providers in your area. Due to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, most health plans are required to offer comparable coverage for mental and physical healthcare.
  • FQHCs. Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) are community-based healthcare centers in underserved areas that receive government funding. They provide comprehensive mental health care, behavioral health services, and primary care to patients regardless of their health insurance status or ability to pay. FQHCs provide care on a sliding fee scale based on the patient’s income. They must meet stringent requirements, including operating under a governing board that includes patients.
  • Private therapists with sliding scale fees. Like FQHCs, many private therapists are willing to work on a sliding fee scale based on the client’s ability to pay. These therapists do not always advertise their flexible pay structure, so it’s a good idea to ask before assuming someone will be too expensive. If you find a therapist who seems like a good fit but has steep hourly rates, stop to ask whether they can adjust their fee to match your financial resources. 
  • University Hospitals. University hospitals and nonprofits with psychology and psychiatry students are often looking for ways to put students to work. Many hospitals offer low-fee or sliding-scale psychotherapy for patients willing to receive care from interns and residents.
  • Providers that accept Medicaid. If you do not have other health insurance and make a low income, you may be eligible for Medicaid, which provides access to free therapy through certain providers. The eligibility rules vary from state to state, so check the Medicaid website to see if you are eligible.

Receiving Mental Health Care During a Pandemic

Telemedicine allows patients to use technology to connect with medical professionals without physically going to the provider’s office. This new technology has created abundant new options for behavioral and mental healthcare, especially during a pandemic. 

Options for remote care have expanded further now that the government and insurance providers have changed legal and insurance-related restrictions in the wake of COVID-19. The federal government recently removed Medicare restrictions around telehealth and temporarily changed certain HIPAA obligations to allow care providers to treat home-bound patients. As a result, many medical providers, including primary doctors and specialists, now offer video chat appointments and other options as an alternative to in-person visits. 

Providers can administer talk therapy and other care over Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and other tools. If your situation does not require in-person care, telemedicine could be an excellent care option at this time.

You Are Not Alone

Dual diagnosis is more common than you think, and you do not have to struggle alone. If you think you or your loved one may be suffering from mental health and behavioral health conditions, we strongly encourage you to speak with a provider or partner such as Sunrise about your diagnosis and treatment plan. 

With treatment, you can live the full, healthy life you were meant to live!

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