When folks first call my office, often one of the first things they often say is something like this:
My doctor just diagnosed me with anxiety (or depression, or ADHD, or fill-in-the-blank) and he told me to call you, but I’m not sure why.
So, what is the next step when a physician tells you you have a mental health diagnosis?
1. Ask as many questions as you can before you leave the provider’s office. If you arrive home and realize you didn’t ask enough – or any – questions try calling your doctor back and asking for clarification. Some of these questions might include: 1) What symptoms do I have that caused you to give me this diagnosis? 2) How do you typically treat people with this illness? 3) Are there other options? 4) Would it be a good idea for me to get a second opinion? 5) Are there any books/blogs/websites you recommend where I can read more about my condition?
2. Once you get home and feel ready, check out some of the resources your doctor provided. If they didn’t provide any, try your local library for some books. If that doesn’t appeal to you, try looking at some TRUSTWORTHY health websites. Some of my favorites include: WebMD, the American Psychological Association, and PsychCentral. While looking through the resources, some information you might want to look for includes: 1) How does this illness develop? 2) What are the treatment options? 3) What is the typical course of the disorder (does it come and go, get more severe over time, resolve on its own)? Beware of over-reading though, sometimes too much information (especially from a poor source) can be a bad thing.
3. One of the most important things in recovering from mental illness is sticking to the treatment plan. Whether your doctor prescribes medication, recommendes therapy, or something else, it’s important to stick to it. If it doesn’t seem to be working or other issues arise, give you doctor a call back and let her know what is going on. Some folks find that keeping a log of mood and behaviors helps track the effectiveness of treatment.
4. Sometimes I hear folks say they feel as if they’ve failed when they realize they’re suffering from a mental health disorder. While our society has come a long way in accepting mental illness just like any other physical health problem, many of us still hold a stigma against mental illness. As you are adjusting to your new diagnosis, remember that mental illness is just as real as diabetes, cancer, or strep throat. Mental illness is not a punishment for past wrongs, or something one should be able to overcome if they were only “stronger” (something I hear a lot). Mental illness is prevalent (see NIMH statistics for serious mental illness in 2008) and treatment is effective (see APA information about treating anxiety and depression).