If you’ve received a new mental health diagnosis — maybe you have depression, or you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety disorder — you probably have lots of questions. You might be wondering what this new finding means for your life. You might also be wondering how you will need to manage your disease. No matter your feelings, there are a few things you should do to get your recovery started on the right track.
Research your disease
Doctors often use clinical words to describe a new mental health diagnosis, but you want to know what it really means. Fortunately, the internet is full of medical and lay person’s descriptions of mental illnesses. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) should be your first destination. As an advocacy group, NAMI provides a range of support services for people with mental illness. Websites like mayoclinic.org and webmd.com feature easy-to-digest consumer information on many diseases, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Another resource is the proliferation of blogs about mental illness. Though everyone’s prognosis is different, the many first-person narratives that exist on the web will give you an idea of what it can look like to live with your condition. There are also many interviews of celebrities who live with mental illness. These accounts usually tell of triumph over adversity, and can be very inspirational in light of a new mental illness diagnosis. At this point in your diagnosis, gaining information will give you a sense of control that may quell any worries.
Research your treatment options
Your mental health professional may have given you medications to start treatment for your new mental health diagnosis. It is important to review all of the information that comes with your first prescription. It will tell you how the drug works, list common side effects and discuss any withdrawal symptoms if you miss a dose. The FDA also has safety information for many current drugs in its medication guides. These pieces of information will help you understand what to expect from your treatment.
Even if your doctor has prescribed one medication for you, that doesn’t mean that you must take that particular medication. There are hundreds of psychotropic drugs on the market, and they all have different side effects. It’s important for you to know that if you don’t like the way a drug is making you feel, you can request a different one from your doctor. Arming yourself with details about your treatment will help you and your doctor make the right choices for your lifestyle.
Peer support is crucial for people with mental illness and there are various benefits to support groups. The National Institutes of Health found that peer support had a positive effect on patients’ self-esteem, increased patients’ ability to care for themselves and reduced depression and other negative symptoms. Support groups can supplement the talk therapy that you get from a licensed mental health provider.
Support from friends and family is equally beneficial to someone with a new mental health diagnosis. Those close to you will be able to observe your behavior and are likely able to see any improvement before you do. Since your loved ones have a close relationship with you, you can enlist them to help you stay on your treatment plan and provide you with any help you may need if you get worse.
Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.