Seeking Treatment for the Disability of Mental Illness
By E. Kirsten Peters
Every kind of disability has its own challenges. As someone living with major mental illness, one of the challenges I face is getting good care from mental health professionals. After 30 years of treatment from various people with different professional titles, perhaps I can offer a few words about how best to survive – and sometimes even flourish – while living with a major mental illness and the people who treat it.
There’s a wide array of people who try to help the mentally ill. Social workers, counselors, psychologists, nurse practitioners and psychiatrists all may be involved with treating people like me. Only the last two named professionals can prescribe medication, an important variable that shapes most mental health treatment today. But an individual patient may have both a counselor and a psychiatric nurse practitioner, working with each in different ways to achieve treatment goals. In my case, I see a psychiatrist and a psychologist as I respond to my schizoaffective disorder.
When trying to find professionals who might be able to help you with mental health issues, I think there are a few pointers to keep in mind. You want to avoid people who seem to be on “power trips,” and look for those who treat you in a respectful manner. The point isn’t to fear or adore your care providers, or blindly obey them, but to discuss what’s happening and how best to respond to it – through talk therapy, medications, or a combination of the two.
I sometimes find information about new medications on my own, so it’s important to me that my psychiatrist is willing to accept input from a patient about various drugs. Happily, the doctor I have now responds well to my bringing her photocopies of information about medications from professional journals and a newsletter that summarizes recent research. It’s still her call, of course, what she will prescribe, but she doesn’t put me down for my ideas.
When you first see a mental health provider, it’s perfectly fine to bring a trusted friend or relative. Another set of ears to listen can be helpful, and in this way you’ll have someone to talk to later as you try to determine if you can have a good, working, relationship with the professional in question. I sometimes even bring a friend to my on-going meetings with my psychiatrist because I value the opportunity to involve my friends in my treatment.
Unfortunately, there’s a shortage of psychiatrists in rural areas. At present all we patients can do is try to find a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner in our general area who is accepting new patients.
It takes time (and sometimes boatloads of emotional energy) to find mental health professionals who are helpful. At present I have a good and responsive psychologist in my hometown and a thorough psychiatrist about 35 miles away. I know I’m fortunate. If you are looking for help with mental or emotional issues, keep your wits about you and don’t give up. There is good help out there and I wish you well in your personal search to find what works for you.