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How Do I Advocate for My Own Mental Health?

Matthew Cuddeback LCSW

           During the intake appointment, when I am meeting a client (or clients) for the first time we will discuss past experiences with mental healthcare, and this is a really important area to pay attention to the feelings this topic conjures. This is an area that is difficult to navigate, understand, and trust. How did it go? Did you get what you needed? Did you feel respected? Were you able to advocate for yourself? Being that it is such a deeply personal experience it can be hard to know what to expect, so let’s discuss what it looks like from this side and how best to advocate for yourself.

           There are so many different types of mental healthcare, treatments, models, providers, settings, etc. It is daunting, for anyone. If you have ever felt confused or unsure of what you experienced or what you need you are not alone. So, the big one, the one that I always emphasize time and again is to ask questions. Always. New medication? Ask questions. New treatment? Ask questions. Not sure when your appointment is? Ask questions. Not sure what is being recommended? Ask questions. The vast majority of the time mental health providers are more than willing to answer your questions. There are of course outliers, but, and I cannot emphasize this enough, do not continue to see a provider with whom you cannot ask questions.

           When a mental health provider tells you, they are trying a certain therapeutic model, giving a new diagnosis, or suggesting a specific medication, they are talking about doing something that can have profound effects on you, that is something that is definitely worth understanding. Some providers are working in a system that emphasizes seeing as many people as possible, and that comes with a lot of pro’s and con’s, but anyone who is looking out for your best interesting will be willing to work with you and answer your questions. Further, you asking questions means you understand your mental health provider better and they understand you better, this is better for everyone. Any questions you have are good questions because you will understand your mental health better.

           Another key area of advocating for yourself is giving feedback. As a mental health provider, I always want feedback, and usually build this into much of what I do with clients. If I am doing something that doesn’t seem useful or helpful, I want to know. If I am focused over here on your relationship with your siblings and you think we should be working on your career goals, I want to know and I won’t be offended. Maybe there is a good reason I am focused on your siblings, but if you aren’t feeling it is useful, I have work to do to help you see why I am doing what I am. Maybe I misunderstood where our focus should be, well you helped me see that and now I can shift to something more helpful. While it is important to be tactful in how you tell your provider this kind of feedback, it is important to give it, and it again helps everyone.

           Look for a new provider if you feel things aren’t going well. One of the most beneficial and important aspects of mental health care is the rapport between you and the provider. If you feel like they aren’t hearing you, it isn’t going to go well. If you feel like they keep misunderstanding, that may lead to more frustration. It is okay to feel like it is not the right fit. Your mental health provider should be as uncomplicated as possible for you, so if this connection isn’t right it leads to complications that are not helpful for you. This is definitely worth discussing, and if too uncomfortable, maybe it is worth it to just try and find a different provider. Not everyone connects well and that is okay.

           When in the sometimes-complicated system of mental healthcare, it is important to remember that you are focusing on taking care of yourself and that is good for everyone. In order to take care of yourself you need to feel comfortable trusting you are getting what you need, asking questions, giving feedback, and looking for a new provider are absolutely crucial to getting what you need and are appropriate courses of action.

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