The state of your mental health is everything in life! When your mind is not feeling the best, your physical body, the decisions you make, and the actions you take are determined by your present state of mind.
If you struggle with mental health issues of any kind from mild anxiety to bipolar disorder, you need to be an advocate for your mental health!
A self-advocate is defined as a person who looks out for his or her own best interests and speaks up to address their needs and wants related to their own care.
This includes areas of your life related to physical and mental health care.
While many of us know what we want for our own care, it is difficult to speak up and self-advocate, especially for mental health-related issues.
So how does one begin to self-advocate for their mental health?
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Why self-advocate for your mental health?
It’s no secret mental illness as a whole is stigmatized. It’s not just from society but from those who are supposed to care for us the most. Doctors.
According to Columbia University Irving Medical Center, 44% of patients with a mental illness “discriminated against or dismissed by their physician.”
Many times a patient will feel dismissed by their physician about physical symptoms or possible physical illnesses due to their mental health diagnosis.
One example of a physical symptom that manifests from major depression is fatigue.
But just because a patient is diagnosed with depression does not mean fatigue is caused by his/her depression.
It could be the sign of another disorder or disease like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
While this is simply an example it shows when physical symptoms are dismissed as symptoms of mental illness, it leads many patients to suffer in silence and go undiagnosed for other serious conditions they are also needing treatment for.
Another issue arising from health care stigmatization of mental illness is misdiagnosis.
While it’s always important to receive a proper diagnosis for any physical or mental illnesses, many times a diagnosis for a mental disorder may get misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
This typically happens when a specialist in mental health is not seen and instead of a general practitioner or family doctor.
Although this is not always the case, it does highlight the importance of seeking a second opinion if a diagnosis feels wrong or it is a serious diagnosis.
At this point, you’re probably wondering, “How do I make sure I speak up about my mental health?”
Firstly, IT IS DIFFICULT to speak up for your mental health! Not only because you may feel embarrassed about needing extra care for your mental health, but because you are speaking up to a professional.
Doctors go to school no less than seven years. It’s hard to speak up for yourself and your care to someone with that amount of training. It’s intimidating!
But, it’s of utter importance. As a human being with a mental illness or mental health issue of any sort (even seasonal depression where an individual is needing medication and treatment), you have basic rights associated with your mental health and your care related to it.
According to Mental Health America, those with mental illness have the following five basic rights:
Liberty and autonomy
The right to make your own decisions including refusal of treatment for mental health and preferences related to psychiatric care.
Even if an individual is considered to be legally incompetent, he/she has the right to due process, legal representation, and the right to appeal the decision.
Seclusion and restraint
The right to be free from all forms of abuse including practices of isolation or seclusion, physical, and chemical restraint which were associated with mental illness treatment in the past.
The right to live and participate in your community including areas of housing, employment, and education.
Access to services
The right to receive service how, when, and where you want treatment. This includes a full explanation of your insurance benefits, treatment options, and the side effects of medication given to you by your doctor.
The right to privacy in regards to who can see your medical information, treatment records, and medical diagnoses.
What you can do to advocate for yourself
Research, Research, Research
Even if your trust your doctor fully, always research things on your own. It only takes a quick Google search to read about…
-A medication you are prescribed
-A new form of treatment/therapy
-Mental health professionals in your area
While it’s an amazing feeling to trust your doctor fully, there are always new things you can learn about your mental health diagnosis or treatment to better yourself.
Research is especially important when you are prescribed a new medication!
Many medications for mental illness come with a host of negative side effects including weight gain.
It’s important to know all the side effects your doctor may have forgot to tell you so you can better weigh your medication treatment options with your doctor.
After you’ve researched for yourself, speak up to your doctor to advocate for yourself!
It’s intimidating to speak up to someone who went to eight years of medical school.
But your mental health along with the treatment you receive is important and is critical to your overall health!
This is why it is so vital to state your opinion and preferences for care.
Your doctor wants to prescribe you a nighttime sleep aid for insomnia.
But after researching the medication you realize the sleep aid is an anti-psychotic (Seroquel) that’s for off-label use of insomnia.
However, it is typically prescribed for schizophrenia and bipolar. If this makes you feel uncomfortable being on an anti-psychotic for sleep issues, then speak up to your doctor.
It is your right to ask for other options for sleep medication.
Do not be afraid to seek additional help
If you are taking medication for a mental illness, but feel you need additional treatment in the form of therapy, seek extra help. Don’t wait for your doctor to refer you to a therapist.
You have the right to find a therapist who is sympathetic and compassionate about their work to better your health.
You can always research therapists in your area to find a qualified professional who suits your therapy needs and aligns with your values.
Just as you can seek additional therapy, you have a right to seek a second opinion from another doctor!
Don’t feel like you owe your doctor anything by just blindly accepting his/her diagnosis, medications, or recommendations for mental health treatment.
If something feels wrong in your gut about anything, seek a second opinion from another qualified professional.
Be firm in your decisions
Only you know what’s best for your mental health! As long as your brain can make competent decisions, be firm in the decisions you make for your care.
If you prefer one treatment over another, speak up and be firm with that decision.
Sometimes family, friends, and even doctors will try to persuade you in a different direction for your care.
While they may mean well and only want to help, you know what you need to better yourself.
Unless you are having hallucinations or psychosis you are capable of making of advocating for yourself.
Know what your needs are
Everyone’s needs change over time. This has a lot to do with life circumstances.
When life becomes more stressful with circumstances that are often out of our control, a preexisting mental illness can become worse.
Therefore, your needs for your mental health change.
Knowing what your needs are at this time in your life with your mental illness is crucial for advocating for yourself!
Talk about your mental health
Don’t worry, you don’t need to divulge all the details of your mental illness with complete strangers.
However, the stigmatization of mental illness will only continue if no one talks about it.
Silence is the worse thing and is the counter opposite of normalizing the discussion about mental health.
Destigmatization can only happen with those who struggle with mental illness speak out about their struggles.
Although this is extremely hard to do, speak out about your mental health.
Whether it be family and friends or on social media, there is no shaming in struggling with a mental illness.
Most mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and more are much more common than you think.
But society tends to keep things hush-hush when it comes to the discussion of mental illness, medications, and the treatment surrounding it.
There’s no shame in having a mental illness. A diagnosis is simply a label and does NOT define who you are as a person!
When you begin to advocate for your mental health, you are doing something amazing!
You’re saying to yourself and the rest of the world, “I matter and so does my mental health!”
It’s essential to know your rights and to speak up to voice your preferences, concerns, and needs for treatment.
Because of the stigmatization that’s engrained in society, the wants and needs of those with mental illness tend to get brushed aside.
Many are even labeled as “crazy” or “incompetent” in making their own decisions. This can’t be further from the truth!
That’s why it’s so important to advocate for your mental health by researching, voicing opinions/preferences, seeking more help, and creating a discussion about mental illness.