In recent years, the conversations around mental illness have evolved from taboo to mainstream. Celebrities like Lady Gaga and Prince Harry are becoming advocates and are helping shed the misconceptions around mental health. But as wonderful as this newfound solidarity is, it doesn’t really make a mental health diagnosis any less overwhelming. It can be a scary, sad, comforting, and confusing experience all at once. If you find yourself asking “what now?” don’t worry — here are some simple ways you can begin to move forward:
1. Talk to a Loved One
Mental illness can feel incredibly isolating. Compounded with a feeling of shame, many people with mental illness tend to keep their diagnoses to themselves for fear of rejection. However, it may be of comfort to know that just recently, a survey by the American Psychological Association reported that 87% of adults believe mental disorders are nothing to be ashamed of. This shows that the attitude towards mental health is slowly changing for the better.
As the conversations about mental health have become more accepted, you may be pleasantly surprised by others’ reactions. Of course, you are under no pressure to share this diagnosis right away. Once you decide that you’re ready to share, make sure that you’re speaking to somebody you trust. Who knows? You may even be opening up a conversation that’s important to them, too.
2. Learn About Your Insurance Coverage
Just like any other health condition, you will need insurance to cover any medical expenses. This may seem like an added burden, but the sooner you get this sorted the quicker you can explore your treatment options. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity law, most insurance plans will cover your mental health treatments.
As a rule of thumb, if your insurance covers all or some of the costs for out of network physical health treatments, it must do the same for mental health concerns. If you have an employer-covered health plan, they may have an Employee Assistance Program to help you find treatments within your budget.
Otherwise, community mental health clinics or local health departments can potentially treat or refer you to professionals who accept government health insurance or who offer reduced-cost services. If you don’t have any insurance, visit your local social service agencies or Federally Qualified Health Centers which are government funded with licensed mental health professionals. If you’re eligible for Medicaid (income is usually a factor), you can look for in-network free therapy, too. Even if your budget is limited, mental health can still get treated.
3. Find a Trusted Professional
Finding the right mental health professional for you is life changing. If you’re comfortable with the professional who gave your diagnosis, ask them what treatment plan they have in mind. You’re not obligated to stay on any longer than you like anyway.
If, however, you’d like to explore your options, decide first what kind of mental health professional you prefer. The most common professionals are psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and mental health nurses. All of these professionals must be licensed and have undergone varying degrees of education and training. However, only psychiatrists and mental health nurses can prescribe medication. In many states mental health nurses, one of the many specialized nursing careers, perform the same duties as psychiatrists and can offer case management and patient advocate services. So if your options are limited in your area, know that you can get assistance from nurses as well as medical doctors. From here, you can narrow your search to professionals with specializations in your diagnosis. These specialists will be better equipped for your condition and can better explain and tailor your treatment plan as necessary.
4. Find an Outlet
Even if you’ve never been the most artistically-inclined person, you’ve still got abstract thoughts and emotions that could be better expressed through a creative medium. Try painting, pottery, acting, singing, or whatever else gets your creativity firing. It could even be whipping up a new recipe in the kitchen or trying different forms of workouts.
A creative release stimulates your brain to lessen cortisol and increase endorphins—aka nature’s antidepressant. A quick and easy outlet anyone can do is journaling. Writing down your experiences has been found to induce both immediate impact and long-term benefits. You’re able to purge your feelings and memories, while then being able to better process them. Don’t worry about how your creations look or how often you make them, either. What’s important is how accessible and cathartic these activities are.
Currently, 1 in 5 adults in America will experience some sort of mental health disorder in their lives. If you are one of these people, take this as reassurance that you are not alone. A mental health diagnosis doesn’t make you weak, broken, or doomed. This May, during Mental Health Awareness month, take the time to reassess your life. You’ve still got all the same working parts, dreams, and capabilities to succeed—only now you have the chance to do it with better clarity and a better support system.
For more information on mental health and help in locating support resources, please visit: https://www.namiadco.org/
written for namiadco.org by Ruby Julian