When dealing with mental illness, you and your doctor need to be tight-knit. Throughout the course of your illness, you will probably have a team of doctors that treat different sides of your illness. Your primary care physician will likely be the first person to give you an initial diagnosis and will also be the one who checks in on your overall health, not just your mental health. This is a vital role in your treatment, and don’t take it for granted. Your mental health affects every aspect of your life. This includes your physical health.
LaRae LaBouff lives in Maine with her husband and her dog. She’s an amateur photographer and enjoys traveling, reading, writing and roller derby.Due to personal experience with Bipolar Disorder, she delved into the literature and research of the human mind. She currently writes of her own life experiences both with Psych Central and on her personal site.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
You may also have a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner who manages your medications. Truth be told, don’t expect a whole lot more than prescriptions from this one. Appointments are short and straight-forward. That’s why you may also need the help of a therapist who will help you with the nitty-gritty of the psychological bits. So you have this team, but its effectiveness is really all up to you. I’ve got five ways to help you take advantage of the help that’s out there waiting.
Make the call
The younger you are when your symptoms begin, the longer it usually takes to get treatment. That seems counter-intuitive, but there is data to back it up. That’s why it’s vital to watch out for symptoms and seek help. If you think you might have bipolar disorder (or know someone who may), watch out for symptoms of depression and mania, including suicidal/self-harm thoughts or hallucinations. Most people only seek help during depressive phases, so especially note possible manic or hypomanicsymptoms.
Seeking treatment isn’t just important for diagnosis. Dealing with bipolar disorder is an ongoing process. Have regular checkups and also let your doctor know if you notice any changes in your behavioral patterns.
Prepare for your appointment
Unfortunately, doctors are spending less time with patients, so it’s harder to get in all the important information as efficiently as possible. Keep a list of your medications and supplements (including dosages). Also try to keep a log of your symptoms, side-effects and anything you think is pertinent. That way when you get there, it will all be written out and you don’t have to rely on your memory.
If you’re not honest with your doctor, they can’t help you. Putting on an act like everything is peachy is a habit, but you need to drop it when it comes to getting treatment. It’s incredibly difficult to admit to having feelings or experiences that are abnormal or scary. Hallucinations, suicidal ideology, drug use, abuse. All of these things impact your mental health. Your team shouldn’t judge you for these things. If they do, it’s time to find a new provider.
Yes, as a patient, you have rights. You have the right to seek treatment and to be treated in an emergency situation. You have the right to privacy. Do recognize that there are situations in which medical professionals are required to release information, including identifying a fugitive or missing person, if the patient is a serious threat to themselves or others or in some cases of abuse. You have the right to access your medical records. You have the right to be informed of your medical condition, including asking for a second opinion. You also have the right to refuse treatment.
With these rights come responsibilities. Treat your physician with the respect you want to receive. They are trying to help you. Keep communication open, including asking questions or asking for clarification. Be your own advocate. If you think something is wrong, say so. Make sure monetary issues are in order. If you have insurance, check your benefits. If you are paying cash, try to work out a payment plan. You can also apply for Medicare/Medicaid or Disability benefits. Don’t let financial stress add to your problems. Finally, once you and your doctor agree on a plan, you need to stick with it.
If you’re not on board with the plan your doctor gives you, tell them. Treatment is a partnership. If you’re not going to go through with the treatment plan, then you’ve wasted everyone’s time. Failure to adhere to medication regimens is a huge problem with bipolar disorder. There are a few reasons for this: general non-conforming personality, denial of having a chronic disorder, dismissing the need for medication in order to function and fear of the side-effects of medication. Your fears and concerns are valid. You should talk to your doctor about them and work out a plan that you’re actually comfortable with and stick to it. If you find you can’t or something else has come up, start the process over.
It’s a long and hard road, but there are a lot of people out there who make it their mission to help.
Bonus tip: Be nice to the office staff. They’re an integral part of your treatment and are often the go-between of you and your doctor. Plus, they’re human. Mostly.