How To Be Your Own Mental Health Advocate

I’ve wanted to be a therapist for some time now. I had such romantic notions of what it would be like to help others understand themselves, to heal, and to live happier lives. To really understand and treat mental illness. I was going to make real change. Ahh. Fast forward to when I started working in the field and man oh man was I wrong.

I honestly didn’t see a lot of helping. I saw a lot of barriers. I saw long wait lists, high clinical thresholds, a lot of diversion of responsibility and shuffling of clients. I didn’t see change. I didn’t see healing. I didn’t see any of what I expected. It’s not that they didn’t want to help, but with a lack of funding, a lack of practitioners, regulations and policies, ethical guidelines, diagnostic criteria, and the amount of people who were seeking services, it was almost impossible to do the job right.

After working in mental health and the interactions I had with health professionals after my first was born, I became passionate about self advocating. Only you know what you need, and therefore, you are your best advocate. But how do you accomplish this?

  • Educate yourself. Read books and do some Googling. Yes, Dr. Google can be a scary place and it can trigger unnecessary anxiety and worry, but it can be a good resource when used correctly. Take what you’ve learned to your health care provider or alternative practitioner and get clarification and seek answers. Don’t self diagnose and treat. This isn’t the goal. The goal is to learn. If you notice anxiety, stop researching.
  • Go into your appointment with questions. Write them down and actually bring them with you. At the beginning of your appointment, tell your healthcare provider that you have a written list of questions you’d like addressed. Remember, if you’re seeing a doctor, appointments are generally short and rushed, so come prepared.
  • Keep your own records. Have a dedicated journal where you keep track of your mood, experiences, symptoms, thoughts, and interactions with health professionals. Be as detailed as possible, particularly when you are noting your experiences with health professionals. Write down a summary, the time, the practitioner, the place, and outcome. Take this journal to your appointments and share it. This makes your symptoms and interactions more tangible and hard to ignore.
  • Bring a trusted family member or friend with you. If you don’t have someone, check your local area for a mental health advocate who may be willing to support you. Bringing someone with you can help reinforce and validate your concerns. They can also offer a secondary perspective on what took place during the appointment.
  • Emphasize your concerns. Healthcare professionals make their clinical judgments based on what they see at that given moment. If you’re feeling well the day of your appointment, they will judge you based on your presentation today. This is where your journal of your experiences (as described above) can be helpful. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m doing well today, but these are my past experiences.” Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t feel safe.”
  • Get to know your health insurance. I was always so surprised by how people didn’t know if they had coverage and/or what was covered. You may be eligible to see a practitioner in private practice, which cuts down on wait times and private practitioners generally have more time to focus on you.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask/seek a second opinion. One opinion isn’t the end all be all.

Advocating for ourselves and our mental health can be uncomfortable, but it does’t have to be. While it may seem like your doctor is the authority, you are actually the one in the drivers seat. You are the only one who knows how you feel and you are the only one who knows what’s best for you.

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