How to Advocate for Your Own Mental Health
By Amy Stuart
Maybe it’s the chilly examination room. Maybe it’s the feeling of bare skin beneath a loosely-fitted, sheer gown or the way the paper blanket crinkles when you shift positions. Maybe it’s the muffled discussions from the hall that can be heard through the thin walls or that the physician was a tad brusque at a previous appointment. Whatever the reason, I’ve sometimes felt that there was some elusive, unknown factor that seemed to hinder vulnerability in the examination room and what ought to be a safe place to disclose even the most troubling of admissions instead may seem like a haven for unease.
Even in the best of circumstances, it can be intimidating to speak to your doctor about your physical health. Broaching the topic of your mental health can be as well, perhaps even more so. Despite this, it’s vital to your overall wellbeing that you advocate for your own mental health. Here are a few ways to help you do so.
- Talk to your provider. If you haven’t done so already, a good starting point for self-advocacy is a conversation with your primary care physician or obstetrician-gynecologist. If that doesn’t feel comfortable just yet, practice by talking to your spouse, a friend, join a support group. It’s important to be able to verbalize to yourself what you are thinking and how you are feeling.
- Practice self-awareness. Notice how you are feeling and be clear about the tangible impact your mental health struggles have had on your daily life. Provide examples when applicable, and emphasize the severity of what you’re experiencing. You know your own temperament best, so communicate when something is out of the ordinary for you. Be prepared to ask yourself some challenging questions and be receptive to feedback from people you love and trust.
- Collect notes to organize your thoughts. If you think you’ll find it difficult to have a discussion with your physician or that you’ll forget important details, a practical way to circumvent this issue is to bring notes. Write down questions as they come to you and bring them up with your provider. A competent, empathetic doctor will be ready with recommendations of reputable mental health professionals for you, but you can also find a directory of providers who are trained in perinatal mental health here on the Postpartum Support International (PSI) website.
- Bring support. It may also help you to bring someone with you when you have this conversation with your physician. How helpful this is will often depend on your personality and what your network of support currently looks like. If you have a partner, parent, or close friend who is trustworthy, respects boundaries, and honors your desired level of privacy, this is likely to be the kind of person who can provide moral support and encouragement when you meet with your doctor.
- Be persistent. Another component of self-advocacy as it pertains to your mental health is persistence when it comes to finding mental health professionals with whom you can develop a good rapport. They will need to be someone who makes you feel safe, heard, and cultivates an environment conducive to vulnerability. You may not click with the first one you meet. That’s OK. Don’t give up, though.
- Treat your mental health as a journey. Once you do connect with one or more trustworthy psychiatrists, licensed therapists, etc., continue to advocate for your own mental health by learning with them. Take things at a thoughtful pace and ask for their input on other reliable sources of information relevant to your particular situation so that as you continue your sessions with them, you can educate yourself in tandem.
Lastly, be an advocate for your own mental health by being kind to yourself during this season. It can be tempting to be impatient with yourself. It can be frustrating to feel like you aren’t getting better fast enough. Healing will come. In the interim, be gentle with yourself and gracious regarding your own time of recovery.
Amy Stuart describes herself as both an avid writer and as someone with a desire to be a passionate advocate for those in need, particularly for those impacted by mental illness. She completed her B.S. in Justice Studies at Arizona State University, where she also studied English and history, tutored writing, and was a columnist with The State Press. She later worked with at-risk students and young adults. Currently, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, writing, working out, baking, and volunteering in her community.