6 Steps to Become Your Own Mental Health Advocate

How to become your own mental health advocate – 6 Steps from Cassandrastout.com.

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Whether you have a diagnosis of mental illness or are seeking one out, becoming your own mental health advocate is crucial. Many people don’t have the support of others when dealing with mental illnesses. Sometimes, the only people who will advocate for them is themselves.

Becoming your own mental health advocate isn’t a difficult process, but it is a process. There are things to do and things not to do when traveling along that road.

Here are 6 steps for advocating for yourself:

6 Steps to Become Your Own Mental Health Advocate - CassandraStout.com

Step #1: Accept your Symptoms

The first step towards becoming your own self advocate is to accept that your symptoms point towards a mental illness. For example, if you find you’re not sleeping but still have a ton of frenetic, pressured energy, you could be suffering from a manic episode of bipolar disorder. Make a note of your symptoms and take them into a professional.

Step #2: Build a Treatment Team

In order to acquire a diagnosis of mental illness, like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, you must build a treatment team. You need a therapist at the very least, and if you find your mental illness can’t be managed without medication, you’ll have to find a psychiatrist.

You want to find a team of professionals who can treat you holistically. Ask your primary care physician for referrals to psych doctors.

For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Step #3: Educate Yourself about Your Mental Illness

Once you have a diagnosis, find reputable sources to read about your mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a fabulous resource on all manner of mental health conditions.

If you have bipolar disorder, there are also books like An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (not affiliate), by Kay Redfield Jameson. Ask your treatment team for resources. They’ll be happy to provide.

Step #4: Be an Expert on Yourself

You know yourself better than anyone else. So capitalize on that. Keep track of your symptoms via mood chart, sleep journal, and/or a symptom tracker app.

You’re not a doctor, so don’t try to be one, but providing information to your treatment team can only help you. Rely on your treatment team to best interpret the information.

Step #5: Practice Self-Care

You won’t be able to help your treatment team take care of you if you’re worn out. Look after yourself. Practice daily self-care.

Get some sleep, eat several small meals, drink enough water, socialize with real people, go outside, and move your body for at least 30 minutes per day. These six self-care tenants, outlined by a post on WellandWealthy.org, will help you feel better if you do them more frequently than not.

Step #6: Express Yourself Calmly

Sometimes, when advocating for yourself, you will face resistance and stigma.

If this happens, then try to remain calm. Take deep breaths and center yourself. Tell yourself that getting angry won’t help you, and control your knee-jerk reactions.

Once you’ve got a handle on your emotions, express yourself calmly. Explain what you need and what you expect from the people you’re explaining this to.

If you can’t express yourself in the moment, take a break, and write down what you need to say. Come back to the people who resisted or stigmatized you and read from your writing.

Final Thoughts

Becoming your own self-advocate is a process, one you can master. Accept your symptoms, build your treatment team, educate yourself about your mental illness, be an expert on yourself, practice self-care, and express yourself calmly in the face of resistance and stigma.

If you practice these steps, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming your own self-advocate.

I wish you well in your journey.

6 Steps to Become Your Own Mental Health Advocate - CassandraStout.com

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How to Talk to Someone Experiencing a Bipolar Mood Episode

Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief discussion of suicidal ideation.

Bipolar patients suffering from mood episodes often make no sense. If they are depressed, they may say things like, “I’m a failure. No one loves me. I want to die.” On the flip side, if they’re manic or hypomanic, they might say things like, “I can fly! Let’s deep clean the house at midnight! It’s all so clear now!”

Telling the depressed person that he or she is not a failure and that people love him or her may fall on deaf ears. Similarly, trying to engage with the manic person’s delusions might be futile. So how do you talk to someone suffering from these issues?

Let’s dig in.

How to Talk to a Depressed Person

In order to talk to a depressed person, you need to address the root problem: the illness. You need to offer sympathy, understanding, and possible solutions.

For example, one thing you can say in response to his or her negativity is this: “I hear you. I understand that you’re depressed. This is normal for your bipolar disorder. I know it sucks. I’ve seen you like this before. Maybe you could take a long, hot shower; we know that helps you feel better.” This response addresses the real issue and communicates that you are there for the depressed person.

talking
A woman with very red lips on a cell phone. Credit to flickr.com user Anders Adermark. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Depressed people may also suffer suicidal thoughts, which are dangerous. If they express these thoughts, you can say something like, “Thank you for telling me. You mean a lot to me, and I am here for you.” Then suggest that the depressed person call his or her treatment team and let them know that he or she is suffering from these thoughts.

How to Talk to a Manic Person

Similar to talking to someone suffering from depression, when talking to a manic person, you need to respond with patience and understanding. He or she will try to talk over you, and will not be able to stop talking. Be careful about being swept up into the conversation, as it can be overstimulating for everyone.

If the manic person ends up overstimulated, his or her mania or hypomania might worsen and he or she may become agitated. Despite their confidence, people with hypomania or mania are very sensitive in their elevated mood, and may take offense easily. If you are overstimulated, you might not be as effective at helping them remain calm. Make sure that the manic person is in a safe place and walk away for a break.

When you return, answer questions briefly, calmly, and honestly. If the manic person proposes a project or goal, do not agree to participate. You can keep tabs on them during the project and remind them to eat, sleep, and generally take breaks.

In my own experience, I was manic shortly after giving birth. I clapped my hands repeatedly and demanded that we–myself and the woman from church visiting me–clean the house, rather than let me recover. I was focused on getting my projects done, and ended up devastated once my goal was thwarted. Prepare to deal with that devastation–or frustration.

If the manic person tries to argue, remain detached. Talk about neutral topics. If you need to postpone the discussion, say something like, “I see this means a lot to you. We definitely need to discuss this, but let’s do so in the morning after I am no longer upset and tired.” You can also try to redirect his or her behavior, saying something like, “Would you prefer to take a walk or watch a movie?”

Final Thoughts

Communicating with people suffering from a mood episode, be it mania or depression, can be difficult. They often believe things that aren’t true. So taking care of yourself in the situation is paramount. If the manic or depressive person is critical of you, tell the person that you understand that he or she is ill and upset, but that you will not tolerate being spoken to in that way. Then find a way to exit the conversation and reconvene later. Be firm, but kind.

Above all, as with so many strategies for dealing with bipolar people, be patient. They are suffering from a mental illness that they cannot control. It’s not their fault. If they must deal with the consequences of their actions, try to present those consequences after they come out of the mood episode, when they are back to their rational selves.

Good luck!

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How Mental Health Affects Personal Hygiene

Hygiene is extremely important for health and morale-related reasons, but mental health conditions can negatively affect self-care. Keeping up a routine of frequent bathing can be difficult for many people suffering from bipolar disorder, unipolar depression, schizophrenia, and dementia. Teeth and hair brushing are burdensome for the mentally ill; indeed, getting that done on a daily basis is hard for me as well.

During my stay in the mental hospital, patients had to request that they be let into the shower, which was locked. The nurses required us to be dressed by eight a.m., but didn’t require oral care or hair brushing. As a result, my normally-straight hair became ridiculously tangled, to the point that I described it as a mass of Brillo pads piled atop my head.

toothbrushing
Credit to flickr.com user Niklas Gustavsson. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Self-neglect is one of the major symptoms of depression, and can easily be tied into mania as well. Body odor, soiled clothes, and poor oral hygiene are all signs of something going very wrong in a person’s life. Loss of motivation, a lack of self-worth, and social isolation all contribute to poor hygiene.

One way to help remind yourself to wash is to have soap and other supplies readily stocked. Fresh towels, even if it’s difficult to do laundry, are essential to cleaning oneself. People who care about you can help keep you on task as well by asking if you’ve had a shower lately. And you don’t need to bathe everyday. Showering every day strips the oils from your skin and hair, drying them out. So just get a bath in when you can.

Hygiene can be hard to maintain, especially if you’re in the throes of a mood episode. But it’s crucial to managing moods. Best of luck engaging in self-care!

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