1. The most important first step you can take if you are not doing well with your mental health is to speak to your family doctor. Remember though, family docs practice all kinds of medicine, but specialize in none so don’t be so quick to let him start you on an anti-depressant and send you on your way. Ask for a psych referral so that a psychiatrist can speak to you and make a more accurate treatment plan. I started in 2005 with just using my family doctor, and I went downhill very quickly and it wasn’t until my psychotic break in 2006 that I even spoke to a psychiatrist and that was while I was in hospital and practically catonic. And even then, being in a small town, it was via a video conference feed. It wasn’t until 2008 that I finally got to see a real psychiatrist and that was only because I ended up back in hospital, but this time in a facility that had a mental health ward.
2. Mental health is nothing to take lightly. Sometimes people go through temporary bouts of depression and may need the help of a trained professional to intervene, provide treatment and return the person back to their regular way of life. Getting help for mental health isn’t weak and it doesn’t mean your crazy, no more than going to the doctor because you broke your arm and need someone to fix it. Society and shame have made it seem like mental health is “imaginary” or people who need this help are “crazy” or “nuts”. It’s really quite sad because really – the brain is the most complex system in our bodies and really is it surprising that occasionally it is wired differently than others (no different than having a heart defect), or it may even have endured some trauma or injury along the way in life. Remember, there’s a whole science dedicated to studying this so if you feel like something’s “just not right” with your mind, get help.
3. Once you get to a psychiatrist, the most important thing you can do to advocate for yourself and get the services you need, is to be completely open and honest with them. That may mean talking about sensitive of embarrassing situations, speaking out loud of symptoms you may have been trying to deny, and allowing the emotional side of yourself the opportunity to speak. Too often we don’t allow the emotional side of ourselves to be heard because a lot of society has taught us that being emotional is weak or something to be ashamed of. It’s not – it’s your brain and body’s way of communicating. This includes anger, sadness, tears and laughter. The medical team that needs to help you can best do so if you show them the raw and emotionally battered self.
4. As you go along in your journey seeking recovery from your mental health issue, remember that you will need to constantly advocate for yourself. That means you may have to ask questions about what services are there in your community? You may have to research information on what your diagnosis is and this means educating yourself. You may have to be firm and assertive about things you may need including medications, therapy and/or support groups.
5. Remember this – mental health is important. Don’t allow others to make you feel guilty, weak or ashamed for seeking help. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself and nurture yourself as you would a loved one who may be battling a physical illness. And above all else, love yourself and understand that you are worth seeking help for.