As UC Irvine’s Coordinator of Faculty & Staff Mental Health Care and Respondent Services, Negar Shekarabi often meets with people who know they need help, but aren’t sure where to start.

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“Figuring out what kind of help you need and how to get it can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re in the middle of a difficult time,” Shekarabi said. “I listen, I answer questions and I help people navigate the many resources that are available to UC faculty and staff.”

To help others this Mental Health Awareness Month, Shekarabi shared answers to a few common questions.

Should I start with my location’s Employee Assistance Program or my behavioral health plan?

You’ll find support from either resource. Here’s how they work.

Your Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (also known as an Employee or Academic and Staff Assistance Program) offers free, confidential assessment, intervention, consultation and referral services to all faculty and staff (and their immediate families) at your location. Many programs even offer convenient onsite consultations.

Regardless of your insurance coverage, you can go to your assistance program for no-cost individual counseling for a wide range of personal and work-related problems, with referrals to behavioral health plan and community resources when needed.

If you prefer, you may choose to go directly to your behavioral health plan for support. All of UC’s behavioral health plans other than Core and UC Health Savings Plan cover initial outpatient visits without a copay or deductible.

Behavioral health and substance abuse coverage are provided by Anthem Blue Cross for employees and retirees enrolled in:

Behavioral health and substance abuse coverage are provided by Optum for employees and retirees enrolled in:

Kaiser members may also choose to receive behavioral health care through Kaiser.

How should I choose a provider?

Your assistance program counselor is a great resource if you need a referral to a provider in your health plan’s network. He or she is familiar with providers in the area, and can talk with you about your preferences and needs.

Your behavioral health plan offers a choice between an online provider search (with options to narrow your search by gender, specialty and languages spoken) or assistance by phone from specially trained representatives.

Either way, once you’ve narrowed down your search, online research can help you make a decision. Many providers have websites where they explain their background and philosophy. Psychology Today offers an extensive online database with similar information.

If the first few providers you call aren’t available or don’t respond within a few days, call your plan for assistance. Optum, Anthem and Kaiser are committed to ensuring you receive timely support.

If I get help from UC, will my privacy be protected?

Your privacy is protected by law — whether you visit your location’s assistance program or a provider through your health plan. Unless there’s a clear legal need (for example, if someone’s life or safety is at risk), information about your participation is never released to anyone without your written consent, and it will never appear in any departmental, central or personnel file.

“I want people to know that help is available — and it can make a big difference,” said Shekarabi. “Visit your assistance program, call your behavioral health plan, talk to your doctor — however you start, the most important thing is that you reach out for the help you need.”