One of the biggest struggles once diagnosed with a mental health disorder is trying to find a team of medical professionals who are supportive and non-judgemental. This can be challenging because while some doctors are very knowledgeable and kind, you occasionally run into some that are not. For example, my first physician who diagnosed me with anxiety simply gave me a diagnosis without offering any suggestions or treatment plans. Her advice was basically, “learn to live with it.” She told me that I had nothing in my life to be stressed out about so I shouldn’t complain. I didn’t seek out a second opinion because I thought that there was nothing I could do to get better. I also ended up feeling guilty because I thought she was right – I hadn’t gone through any type of trauma, so I felt like I did not have the right to complain.
Another time, I had an appointment with a psychiatrist because I was worried about my sleeping patterns. As soon as I mentioned that I had some issues sleeping, he immediately began to write a prescription for sleeping pills. I quickly told him I did not want to take anything for sleep but just wanted to know some of my options. I thought that was a little risky just to be handing out medication like that without taking a proper medical history first.
Despite some of the frustrating and negative experiences I have had in the past, I ended up finding a great team of people to help me. One important step for me was taking advantage of the Counselling Services at my university – although they usually only offer a limited amount of sessions, they are a great starting point and can recommend other therapists for you once you have maxed out on your treatment sessions. The most important thing I have learned from this experience has been recognizing the importance of being my own health advocate. While those with mental illness should not have to face these type of healthcare barriers when dealing with medical professionals, it’s ultimately necessary for you to step up and take charge of your own health. This process can be especially difficult if you are struggling with a mental health disorder since you are probably seeing several healthcare professionals at once such as your family physician, psychiatrist, and therapist. Managing several different appointments and having to continually update different people with the same story all the time can be exhausting. For me, I never found there was any effective communication between any of my doctors. So after a while, I discovered some strategies that made navigating the health care system easier. Here are some of my tips:
- If you are unhappy with the treatment you are receiving from one doctor, ask to be referred to another. You don’t have to settle with someone who you do not feel comfortable with; this will end up making it more difficult for you to open up about any issues you are having, and you may feel anxious about going back to someone who you don’t completely trust. See if any of your family members or friends can recommend someone if you are having trouble. You can also search online for doctors who specialize in the types of problems you are having and call their offices – some therapists for example, may offer a free initial consultation so you get an idea of whether or not they would make a good fit.
- Ask to have all reports and test results photocopied, and keep them all in one file. That way, if you have test results from a psychiatrist that you need to show your family doctor, for example, you can bring the results to your family doctor in person rather than relying on someone in an office to fax them over. I have had a few instances where I went to see my physician and although I was told by specialists that they would send over test results to her, those results never showed up so I ended up wasting time at my appointment. It’s more work for you but it is often more time efficient to do so.
- Ask questions! Before I go to an appointment, I write down all of the questions I have for my doctor in one notebook so I don’t forget anything. I ask my questions and write down all of the answers. If I am still unclear about something I ask my doctor to re-explain until I understand.
Overall, it is important to be diligent and organized when trying to navigate the healthcare system. Find doctors you trust and feel comfortable talking to, and don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. You are your own best advocate; use your voice and in the end, you will feel more empowered and in control of your health.
Ayesha is a fourth year student at the University of Toronto, majoring in Psychology and completing a double minor in Cinema Studies and Sociology. She enjoys watercolor painting, fantasy fiction, and crime dramas. She was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression and Social Anxiety.