When and Why to Seek Out Professional Help

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

The first step to handling an emergency situation involving physical injuries is triage. Stop the bleeding, make the environment safe, transport the patient to a hospital. The people to call in a dangerous situation are the professionals; untrained laypeople can help treat injures sometimes, but when it comes to major problems, you call your country’s emergency line (e.g. 911 in the US; 211 in the UK).

Mental illnesses are no different. Depression can lead to awful situations like feeling desperate to recover, enduring thoughts of self-harm, and potentially drastic actions like dying by suicide. If you’ve been floundering in a depressed state and you don’t appear to be recovering, it’s time to stop the bleeding. Call in the professionals; they can help you set you on the right path to recovery.

When and Why to Seek Out a Therapist 

A therapist has had multiple years of schooling (and if you’re fortunate, many years of practice) under their belt, so they should be able to help you. Talk therapy is one way to address anxiety and to help you build coping skills. Therapists can diagnose you with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and offer you specific support tailored to that illness and how it affects you in your day-to-day life.

If you have a lot of past to untangle and feel that your baggage is impacting your everyday functioning or if you’re starting a new chapter in your life and you don’t want to be weighed down by past mistakes, then seeing a therapist is a good idea. Alternatively, if you’re absolutely miserable and not sure which problem to tackle first, a therapist may help you start to figure out your next steps.

My experiences with my therapists have been largely positive. When I fell pregnant with my son at 21, freshly graduated from college with a whole lot of baggage, I was overcome with anxiety. I thought I was going to fail this whole parenting thing and screw my son up. I wasn’t a functioning adult, so how could I raise a child to be? I was so anxious, I sought out a therapist online by Googlng “therapist [my town].”

Fortunately, I found one that I could see right away, which I know is not always the case. The doctor, whom I’ll call Dr. Smith, talked me through my anxiety. She helped me understand that my relationship with my children, unlike my relationship with my siblings, who I was almost-entirely responsible for every day at young age, was appropriate.

Dr. Smith was there for me when I suffered a subsequent postpartum psychotic breakdown and committed myself to a mental hospital. She diagnosed me as having Bipolar I, and worked closely with the hospital staff in order to convince me to take lifesaving medication, which I’ll address in the next part of this post.

I know you may be depressed, and if you are, you’d rather stick your hand in a box of tarantulas than search for a doctor or straighten out your insurance situation. But a therapist can help you. If you have a trusted friend who can help you find a therapist, call them and ask them if they can Google “therapist [my town]” and do some preliminary research for you. For a more in-depth look on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

You are worth treating. You can feel better. A therapist can help.

When and Why to Seek Out Psychiatric Medication

Medication can be a godsend. When I was suffering severe postpartum depression that was so horrific, I felt actively suicidal for the first two years of my son’s life, I was taking Depakote to manage my mania but nothing for depression. I couldn’t make simple decisions like what to eat or when to shower, and I isolated myself and my toddler. Once I weaned my son at age two-and-a-half, my psychiatrist placed me on lithium to manage my moods, and I suddenly found my life improving by leaps and bounds.

When you feel symptoms of your mental illness are out of control and you can no longer function during the day, then medication may help manage some of those symptoms. You need to handle your daily tasks, especially when you’re a parent and have people depending on you. Even when you’re not a parent, you deserve to be a happy, functioning human being who’s not only surviving from day-to-day, but thriving. If you’re sinking into a deep, dark pit without feeling an escape, medication may take the pressure off.

If you have a mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder that can be treated by chemical substances, why not take them? I understand your reluctance. I’ve been there. But when I did take my meds regularly, my life quickly stabilized, and I was able to be a happier person, devoting more time to being a present parent and partner. 

Psychiatric medications have a stigma. I get that. But the situation is like a diabetic needing insulin to survive. No one judges people who wear glasses. Psychiatric medication is just a means to an end and there’s no shame in helping yourself.

Yes, there are side effects. And yes, you’ll likely have to try a few. I myself searched for five years to find a medication cocktail that worked for me, but once I found it, the quality of my life vastly improved. Thanks to my medication, therapy, and other coping strategies I’ve developed like good sleep hygiene and self-care, I have been stable for seven straight years.

I highly, highly recommend finding a competent psychiatrist. You may also have to try a couple to find one you like who treats you well. But don’t give up, and don’t stop taking the meds just because they resolve symptoms and make you feel better in the moment. Just because you do

You deserve to feel better. If medication can help, why not try it?

For a post on how to acquire a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on what to do if/when you run out of your medication, click here.

Conclusion

I work very closely with my treatment team (my therapist and psychiatrist), so I can address any issues as they arise. I haven’t had to go to therapy regularly for a few months now, so my doctor sees me on an as-needed basis. And my psychiatrist? Well, I check in with him once every six months because I, and my medication, manage my psychotic mania and depression so well.

Therapy and medication, in combination, drastically improved my life. Even if you can only afford just one, go for it. Therapy takes a while longer to start producing results, so I would recommend trying the medication first, so you can stop the bleeding and improve the most dramatic symptoms first.

You deserve to feel better. Your friends and family want to see you happy again. And you, as a precious human being, are worth proper treatment.

Take care of yourself.

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Author: Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs weekly at the award-winning Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. She also blogs monthly at the International Bipolar Foundation website (IPBF.org). Her work has been published in the anthology, How the Light Gets In. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism. She has been a judge for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association literary contest for nine years, where her memoir, Committed, recently placed as a finalist. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.

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