To learn more about the New Canaan Urgent Assessment Program, visit its webpage.

Be Your Own Mental Health Advocate

Silver Hill Hospital

When you are dealing with a mental illness, or any condition for that matter, it’s extremely important to become an advocate for yourself and make sure you have a voice in your treatment plan. Most likely your treatment team will consist of a psychiatrist, a psychologist and/or a social worker. These professionals know the intricate details of mental illnesses, how they typically present and what is the best first step in treatment. They are the experts on the medical condition, but you are the expert on you. Nobody knows you better than you know yourself and it’s important to share that knowledge with all of your treatment providers.

Four Steps to Becoming an Advocate for Yourself

1.    Find the Right Treatment Provider for You
Whether you are looking for a mental health evaluation or looking for ongoing treatment, it’s important to find a person you are comfortable with. When you start looking for a provider, you may not know where to begin. Start by researching who is in your area and find out what forms of payment they accept. Many providers don’t accept private insurance or they may be out-of-network, which means you most likely need to meet a deductible before insurance will pay.  If you are seeing a therapist already, ask them for a referral to a psychiatrist and vice versa. You can also ask your primary care physician for a referral. If you’re comfortable, ask friends or family members. Once you find a few candidates, make an appointment to meet them. Remember you are paying them and sharing very personal information, so it’s important to feel comfortable with them and trust their abilities. Keep in mind, you may go through a few providers before finding the person that’s the right fit for you. Don’t give up though!

2.    Educate Yourself
Don’t turn to Google to  self-diagnose. Go to a professional for an evaluation and once you have a diagnosis, that’s when it’s time to dig into research. It’s your responsibility to understand the condition you are dealing with. Learn what it is, what symptoms to look out for and what treatments are often used. This will give you the knowledge you need to ask the right questions. When treatment options are discussed and you don’t understand something or you are nervous about the plan, stop and ask questions before consenting to treatment. It’s crucial for you to feel comfortable and understand everything. You and your provider should work together to find the best course of action for you. Just remember, your research arms you with knowledge, but it doesn’t replace the years of experience the professionals. Additionally, make sure you are getting your information from reliable resources. There is a lot of inaccurate information floating around the internet.  See below for a list trusted sources.

3.    Be the Expert on You
As we said before, nobody knows you better than you do. While the professionals can tell you what’s typical or common doesn’t mean that your illness will follow that pattern. In order to give the treatment team accurate information, you need to monitor yourself. The best way to do this is keep a journal. Doing so can help you identify trends, triggers, mood shifts and environmental factors that may be worsening your symptoms. Once you have this information, you can work with your doctor and therapist to find ways to cope. Once you are familiar with what is normal for you, it will also be easier for you to identify when things aren’t right. If you start experiencing a symptom that you never had before or you just feel off, speak up and let your treatment team know. Don’t let anyone brush you off and tell you “that’s normal.” If it’s not “normal” for you, then you have the right to question it.

4.    Find Resources Online and in Your Community
There are a number of resources online, but it’s important to find reputable sites. Here are a few to check out:
a.    National Alliance on Mental Illness
b.    Mental Health America
c.    Depression Bipolar Support Alliance
d.    American Psychiatric Association
e.    National Institute of Mental Health
f.     The Jed Foundation
g.    Active Minds

Many of these national organizations have local chapters and support groups in communities across the country. Visit the websites above to find out if there is one near you.