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Be Well, Think Well: General Treatment for Mental Health Conditions


This resource, part of the Be Well, Think Well resource collection, provides information about the use of medication and other treatments for people with autism who experience mental health conditions, what to prepare for medication appointments, behavioral health managed care organizations, and other types of intensive psychological treatments.

Treating Mental Health Conditions in Autism

Many people with autism are prescribed medication by their doctors to treat a mental health condition they may experience.

How to choose between medication and other treatments

Not all people with autism need to take medication. For some things like anxiety, both medication and therapy may work well. For some people, medications can be useful as part of a treatment plan that also includes behavioral treatments and supports.

Alternatives to medicine should be discussed with a doctor or healthcare provider. This can help make the most informed treatment decisions for the individual.

It’s important to remember that it can take time to notice improvement when starting a new treatment. Both medicine and therapy can take weeks or even months before they begin to fully work. Talk to the healthcare provider and/or therapist to get an idea of how long it will take for treatment to begin working. Be sure to give a treatment time to work before deciding whether it’s the best treatment.

Any treatment plan can be adjusted or changed. It may be helpful to take notes on the changes in symptoms over time. This helps make sure that treatment is working and if it’s not, when changes need to be made.

Conditions that may be treated with medication

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability and tantrums
  • Behaviors of self-injury (hitting or biting ones self, head-hitting)
  • Poor focus and hyperactivity
  • Frequently repeated behaviors

Other treatments that address mental health concerns

There are many therapies that can improve mental health and behavioral concerns. These include different types of behavior therapy and more traditional talk therapies. Sometimes medicine and therapies are done at the same time.

How long does a person have to take medicine?

Starting a medicine does not necessarily require a long-term commitment to it. The length of treatment can be discussed with your prescribing clinician.

Medication may improve some symptoms common in autism. However, difficulties in interacting and communicating with others usually responds best with behavioral therapies.

Behavioral Health Managed Care Organization (BHMCO)

A BHMCO is a group of professionals that manage and oversee the organizations that provide behavioral health services. Each region of the state has its own BHMCO, for a total of 5 in Pennsylvania.

What does a BHMCO do for me?

BHMCOs impact individuals who use behavioral health services in a few different ways. BHMCOs make sure that the person is getting good care, getting the services they need, and that the company providing the service is using best practice to treat the person. BHMCOs can also help coordinate care between service providers, making it easier for the patient. BHMCOs also provide case management to link people
to services.

How do I access services?

First, find your region’s BHMCO. Below is a list of the BHMCO’s in Pennsylvania and counties they cover. Once you’ve found your BHMCO, contact the member services department to get started. They will ask questions and determine your need and eligibility for services.

What is case management?

Case management is a service provided by BHMCO’s to help people find, start and keep the services and care they need. A person is assigned a case manager, sometimes called a care manager, who will work directly with people to identify needs and find resources to help meet those needs.

BHMCO's by County

Community Behavioral Health (CBH)1-888-545-2600: Philadelphia

Magellan Behavioral Health of PA1-888-207-2911: Bucks, Delaware, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Cambria

Value Behavioral Health of PA1-800-440-3989: Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Crawford, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Washington, Westmoreland, Venango

PerformCare1-888-722-8646 or 1-866-773-7917 (Franklin/Fulton): Bedford, Cumberland,
Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry, Somerset

Community Care Behavioral Health Organization (CCBHO)https://www.ccbh.com/ : Adams, Allegheny, Bradford, Berks, Blair, Cameron, Carbon, Centre, Chester, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Elk, Erie, Forest, Huntingdon, Jefferson, Juniata, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, McKean, Mifflin, Montour, Monroe, Northumberland, Pike, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Warren, Wayne, Wyoming, York

Intensive Psychological Treatments

There are many types of psychological treatment settings. Trying to make sense of them all can be confusing and difficult.

Residential Treatment Facilities (RTFs) are one of the most restrictive and intensive treatment facilities available. RTFs involve group therapy, individual treatment or therapy, and medication management. Individuals live in the facility for an average of three months. This is a locked door setting, meaning that individuals may not leave the unit or facility without permission from the treatment team.

A psychiatric hospital is similar to an RTF. The main difference is the length of stay. Psychiatric hospitals are locked door facilities where individuals attend group therapy, individual therapy, and medications are managed. However, the average length of stay is about one week.

Day hospitals are not as restrictive as RTFs or psychiatric hospitals. Patients attend group therapy during the day in a hospital setting, but go home each night. Medications may be provided and monitored in a day hospital. Individuals sometimes attend day hospitals after having a psychiatric hospitalization.

Intensive outpatient (IOP) is a treatment provided in a clinic or office setting. Individuals typically have three sessions with a clinician per week. IOP sessions include group therapy sessions and activities. IOP may be recommended in place of a day hospital program, or as a step down from a day hospital.

Recognizing Quality Mental Health Care

It’s sometimes confusing to know if you’re getting quality mental health care. Below are some tips and questions to figure out if the care being provided is the best.

  • Treatment should be based on Evidence Based Practices. This means the treatment has been researched and shown to provide the greatest likelihood for success. It’s important to make sure the treatment is evidence based specifically for individuals with autism.

  • The clinician should have experience working with individuals with autism, their age group, specific mental health diagnoses, and also be experienced in appropriate evidence based practices.

  • When first meeting with the provider, pay attention to how they interact. Do they understand the concerns? Were they able to make a clear treatment plan with the individual’s input? Were they able to start building good rapport with the individual?

  • Is the office willing to make accommodations if needed? For example, some people cannot tolerate loud noises or long waits. Does the office have ways to help? For individuals with complex communication needs, find out if the provider allows family members or support staff to assist.

  • Does the clinician assess for other mental health concerns? A good clinician will assess for other problems beyond what the individual is seeking treatment for. The clinician should ask about things like anxiety, depression, suicide, and other mental health challenges.

  • Did the provider explain who to call if there are questions or concerns? If the clinician is prescribing medications, have they discussed the benefits and side effects and answered all questions?

  • How does the clinician measure progress? It’s important to have measurable treatment goals and review them often to ensure things are improving.

  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Finding the right match is important to establish a good relationship and get the most out of treatment. If the individual doesn’t connect with the clinician, it’s okay to try a different provider until a good match is found.

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Other downloads

Name Description Type File
Be Well, Think Well: Treating Mental Health Conditions in Autism This resource provides information about the use of medication and other treatments for people with autism who experience mental health concerns. pdf Download file: Be Well, Think Well: Treating Mental Health Conditions in Autism
Be Well, Think Well: Behavioral Health Managed Care Organizations This resource provides information about BHMCO's and how they can help. pdf Download file: Be Well, Think Well: Behavioral Health Managed Care Organizations
Be Well, Think Well: Intensive Psychological Treatments This resource will explain the different intensive psychological treatment settings. pdf Download file: Be Well, Think Well: Intensive Psychological Treatments
Be Well, Think Well: Recognizing Quality Mental Health Care This resources shares some tips and questions to figure out if the care being provided is the best. pdf Download file: Be Well, Think Well: Recognizing Quality Mental Health Care

This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.