Sorry I've not managed to get this up sooner, as with all our lives a few things have had to take a back seat so I could focus on work, my own mental health and trying to work out how to be an adult (life as a kid was much simpler)!
Welcome to the second of the mental health mind map deep dives - Clinical Support. This is actually part two of the Therapy bubble on the mind map (you can find the find the first part of that post here (Self-Help).
This clinical support blog is going to be broken in to three parts:
1) Seeing a Doctor
3) Seeing a Counsellor/Psychologist
So lets go...
1) Seeing a Doctor
From my own experience the prospect of seeing your doctor about mental health issues can be daunting. Thoughts like, "I shouldn't be seeing my Doctor about something like this." or "They won't believe me or be able to help me." (Neither of these phrases is true for the record - but it won't stop that demon on your shoulder from making them sound like the gospel).
Coupled to this is the fact that motivating yourself to go to the doctors when you're at rock bottom can be a monumental task.
Neither of these things is easy but I can tell you that never before has the phrase "a problem shared is a problem halved" been more appropriate. The weight that lifted off my shoulders each time I've been to the doctor when really struggling is difficult to explain. The majority of doctors are now really well trained and due to the prevalence of mental health issues; well practised, in how to triage/provide those first guiding steps you need to make a plan for getting a grip on your mental health.
What Will They Do?
Obviously this is very much dependent on what symptoms you present with but they will likely get you to do a self-assessment test (e.g. K10) to assess what is going on (e.g. depression and/or anxiety) and this measurement allows to be a gauge for future improvement.
What Will Happen Next?
It's amazing how many tools are out there to help with mental health and your doctor will be able to guide you through all the options and work with you to develop a plan going forward. Whether it be direction to self-help programs (e.g. CBT Online), looking at medication options or recommending you for counselling/psychological support (or a mixture of these). You're not going to suddenly be cured when you go to the doctor but this is the first step in a journey that will lead you out of the dark. Lets look at two of the options that might become a part of your plan below.
There can be a lot of stigma surrounding mental health medication, as well as different view points about how much they help and if they have a long term effect. We're not going to be able to resolve all these dilemmas so I'll just summarise a few of the medication options and my own experience.
Personally I think medication for mental health is great, but in the right circumstances and as a support for other tools rather than as "the answer". When life is really trying to knock you down (say breaking up from a relationship during a time you're busy at work and have other family stuff going on) then I believe that medication can be a great short-term mood lifter to help you navigate your way through a tough little patch.
Here's a great site with a snapshot of the different types of mental health medication.
As you can see there's quite a collection! Even though I like trying new things I haven't got trying all of these on my wishlist so I'd be interested to hear your stories relating to medication (what works? what doesn't? any side effects?). Personally I have only ever been on Fluoxetine - this is a type of medication that is known as a 'serotonin re-uptake inhibitor' (SSRI) (try saying that after you've had a few!) Essentially some of the reserach around depression/anxiety shows that when we're suffering from symptoms we often don't have the same level of serotonin in our brains as we would if we were feeling a little brighter - the serotonin gets taken up by the system that produces it right when we need it most. The SSRI drugs prevent the serotonin being taken back up - and hey presto you feel a lot better than you would without it. The wonders of science and modern medicine - I definitely count myself lucky to be alive in this day and age. Every time I have used it there really have been a marked improvement in my mood and ability to function BUT this positive effect has only lasted for a few months before it feels like my body becomes immune to the medication and you then have to either take a higher dose and/or make sure your other tools are working hard to remove the need for the medication. Here's a great podcast with Johann Hari challening the way we think about depression where he talks about the short-termism of medication.
I wanted to finish this section by saying that there should be no stigma attached to medication for mental health - it is a fantastic resource when used in the right way and I'm proud to say it has helped me.
3) Seeing a Counsellor/Psychologist
Seeing a psychologist is the single best thing I have ever done for my mental health and something that I will continue to do for the rest of my life. Not only does it help us in the dark times but also shines a light on places that would otherwise be forever in the dark and it is through those new found places we grow and learn what makes us healthy and just as importantly what helps us to be there for others.
Finding a psychologist is a very personal experience and you won't always click with the first psychologist you meet, you also won't always find it easy to open up all the time but stick to it, learn the tools and lessons that are shared, learn about yourself and I promise this will be a step you thank yourself for a long time hence.
Now we haven't really differentiated between a counsellor, psychotherapist, psychologist etc and there are certainly differences. I don't want to flood this post so here's a link for more details on the differences.
All I'd say is if you find someone you get on with and you feel it is helping then the title doesn't really matter. In a later blog that I'll link to here we'll may be discuss this more and look at the access to mental health services in the UK and Australia. For now I'm going to stop there as I'm not one to overload.
I'm really going to try and get the next of these deep dives out next week as I think they can be a real foundation for my own mental health and hopefully that of others so getting it written and out in the big wide world is now a priority...ahead of being an adult.