A seasoned psychiatrist once said to me: “We are just beginning to scratch the surface in understanding mental health disorders.” This has served me well. As a gesture of hope, this same doctor also handed me a paperback with stories of accomplished people in history who experienced a broad array of mental health challenges. I learned not to identify myself as an illness, and that language is important in making this distinction. To empower myself, I choose to say “I manage bipolar” rather than “I am bipolar.” It is important that we emphasize that we are people, regardless of our particular challenge.
There are many components to being healthy: self-responsibility, cognitive support, healthy relationships, regular exercise, good nutrition, sound sleep, creative outlets, financial stability, and the setting of goals. Choose to work with a psychiatrist that appreciates a holistic approach to your health. Open communication with your psychiatrist is critical to successful outcomes. Self-awareness and communicating any changes in your health is key.
Gail Erlandson , M.A.
It is important to communicate with your psychiatrist so that you can take an active role in your treatment plan. Be assertive and always ask your psychiatrist or pharmacist about potential side effects of any recommended medication. Communicating any side effects you are experiencing while taking medication is very important so your psychiatrist can recommend alterations in your treatment plan. See yourself in the driver’s seat as you work with your psychiatrist as your trusted guide.
Our choice of language is helpful in working with our doctors. Rather than saying, “My doctor is putting me on a medication,” try saying “I am choosing to go on this medication with the recommendation of my physician.” The more we take charge of our illness, the greater our wellness. There may be times that we lose insight into ourselves and need to let someone else be in the driver’s seat and take over for a while. If we disagree with our doctor, it is important to consult them before making any changes. Let trusted loved ones know if you have made any medication changes, so they can help you watch for “red flags” like changes in behavior, mood, appetite, or sleep.
Knowledgeable psychiatrists acknowledge that medications can have side effects and also tell us there is trial and error in their practice. Psychiatry is both a Science and an Art. Doctors greatly rely on honest feedback from their patients. You are the one who lives in your body. I find it beneficial to ask questions and look for options outside of medication. My life has been saved by psychotropic medication, yet it remains my rule of thumb to use as little medication as possible to be well. Managing a mental health challenge is an evolving process. It is important to educate your doctor about your symptoms and how the medication affects you. As we make lifestyle changes that positively impact our wellness, we can get better. It is possible that medication that was needed at one stage in our recovery journey will no longer be needed.
Remember that you have choice in working with your psychiatrist, both in your treatment plan and in selecting your doctor. Choose someone who is able to communicate well and with compassion. Look for someone who will listen to you and treat you with respect. If you have been given a diagnosis, regardless of what it is, see yourself as a person first. A mental health challenge can be the opportunity for growth and may help further our compassion and understanding.
Gail has a Master of Arts Degree in Pastoral Ministry from the University of San Francisco and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Portland in Interdisciplinary Studies. Gail taught at Loretto High School for eleven years and has been on staff at Loaves and Fishes. Gail is a mentor for the Wellness and Recovery Center North. She welcomes feedback and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org