In Finland, municipal authorities are responsible for organising mental health services. Mental health services are also provided by hospital districts, private service providers and third sector actors, i.e. different kinds of organisations. This means that people can seek help for mental health problems from, for example, health care centres, occupational health care, specialised psychiatric care, private clinics, private psychotherapists, the church and various organisations which provide and maintain different kinds of mental health services.
The implementation of mental health services differs significantly from one town to another. The structure of the services in larger towns is generally more versatile and there are more service providers to begin with (see examples of mental health services on the web pages of different municipalities: Espoo, Helsinki, Tampere, Oulu).
Outpatient care and hospitalisation
Mental health disorders are usually treated with a combination of conversations and medication, and sometimes with different kinds of group activities, as well. Psychiatric treatment for the more severe and long-term mental health problems is often implemented as so-called outpatient care, i.e. patients do not spend their nights in the hospital, and they only visit the hospital a few times a week or month to receive treatment.
Depending on the place of residence and the needs of the patient, outpatient care offers different kinds of support services, such as supported living or rehabilitative day-time activities. In Helsinki, for example, day-time activities are organised by Niemikotisäätiö, among others.
The purpose of day-time activities is to improve the quality of mental health patients’ lives and to maintain their independent initiative and activity. Day-time activities often include, for example, cooking opportunities, exercise, camping and the chance to talk to other mental health patients and the instructors.
In case the services of psychiatric outpatient care are insufficient, patients are referred to a psychiatric care unit after assessing their needs for treatment. In practice, it is not easy to get admitted into a ward or inpatient care.
Seeking help from mental health services through health care centres or occupational health care
In case you think you need help in regards to your mental health, help should be first sought at health care centres or from your occupational health care. The level of mental health services available through occupational health care depends on the agreement between your employer and the occupational health care. For example, if your occupational health care does not cover psychiatric treatment, your occupational health physician can write you a referral to corresponding treatment provided by public health care.
University students may use the services provided by the Finnish Student Health Service instead of health care centres. Students from other schools can have access to school or health care centre doctors with a referral from the school nurse.
The potential progress of treatment in health care centres
Usually it is the primary care physician at the health care centre who first assesses the patient’s need for treatment. If necessary, they will refer the patient to specialised psychiatric care at the psychiatric polyclinic. Some municipalities do not call their specialised psychiatric care unit a ‘psychiatric polyclinic’; instead, they may refer to it as mental health centre or mental health offices.
Some municipalities allow patients to make appointments directly with the psychiatric polyclinic, but usually a referral either from the health care centre or the occupational health physician is required. The health care centres in some municipalities also employ so-called depression nurses, who offer conversational help.
If basic health care refers you to specialised care, i.e. to the psychiatric polyclinic or to a corresponding unit organising mental health services, you will have the chance to discuss with a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or psychiatric nurse, depending on your situation. In addition to conversational help, you may need individual, family or group psychotherapy, medication or rehabilitation, such as occupational, music or sports therapy.
Often psychiatric polyclinics cannot offer frequent, long-term psychotherapy. Therefore patients must buy psychotherapy from private psychotherapists. If a specialist has issued a statement on the need for psychotherapy, it is possible to apply for financial support for the costs of the therapy from KELA (The Social Insurance Institution of Finland). Read more about psychotherapy and seeking help through psychotherapy.
Private health care services
This section discusses private health care services, excluding occupational health care and The Finnish Student Health Service. Occupational health care is discussed in connection to health care centres.
KELA will reimburse some of the costs of private health care services. If you wish, you can make use of the treatment carried out by a private specialist, for instance. With the exception of psychotherapy, mental health disorders can be treated in public health care. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, must be purchased from private psychotherapists almost without exception.
If a specialist has issued a statement on the need for psychotherapy, it is possible to apply for financial support for the costs of the therapy from KELA (The Social Insurance Institution of Finland). Even if you decide to commit to psychotherapy entirely on your own expense, you might still want to choose a psychotherapist approved by Valvira (former TEO) and reimbursable by KELA, in order to ensure the quality of treatment. Read more about psychotherapy and seeking help through psychotherapy.
Third sector help services
Several organisations offer so-called organisation-based help services. The services offered by the organisations are mostly funded with the support of Finland's Slot Machine Association (RAY) and they are free of charge for the users. In addition, people can participate in the activities organised by several organisations, for example by working as part of the voluntary support personnel. The organisations offer help in the form of hotlines, online help, face-to-face crisis work, peer support or rehabilitation courses.
Examples of organisations providing help for mental health problems
The SOS Crisis Centre of the Finnish Association for Mental Health
List of local crisis centres
Finnish Central Association for Mental Health
Omaiset mielenterveystyön tukena ry
Nyyti (for university students)
Supportive online services
Tukinet offers personal support in the form of the staff or volunteers at crisis centres, participation in different discussion groups, or searching for information from Tukinet’s Service Lookup or Material Database. Tukinet is a service run by Vammala-Huittisten Mielenterveysseura ry.
The National Crisis Hotline
The national crisis hotline offers immediate conversational help for people in crisis and their families and friends. The phones are answered both by crisis workers and trained volunteers. The national crisis hotline has personnel on call in 17 different municipalities throughout Finland.