Today was my first follow up appointment with a psychiatric nurse practitioner since my hospital stay. I’ve had several follow-up visits with a counselor, but this was my first psychiatric visit. I find that many people are surprised at what a visit to the psychiatrist is like. Perhaps there are too many images of Freud and couches swirling about that we assume it is going to be like that. The reality is quite different.
Psychiatry is a medical discipline, and typically, psychiatrists are much more interested in symptoms and the effectiveness of medicine than memories of one’s mother. My visit today was a good reminder that in finding peace from mental illness, I have to consider my overall health. Good diet, exercise, avoiding unhealthy habits, etc are all to be considered in a path to recovery.
Medicine helps, and I truly believe that our medical knowledge and technology is a gift from God. A carefully monitored drug regimen is part of the outcome, along with some helpful tips and even some emergency plans.
I often talk with people suffering from depression or anxiety who tell me they have been put on some medicine but it has not made much of a difference. My first question is wether or not they are getting that medicine from a psychiatrist. Usually, they are not. Typically, people start with their family doctor. That is a perfectly reasonable place to start, but the psychiatrist is going to have a greater knowledge of the wide range of drugs that can be used.
The other question I always have is, “What else are you doing?” Mental and behavioral health has many disciplines under its umbrella. In my case, I visit a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a counselor. One helps with the medication, the other helps with getting down to the nitty gritty of “taking every thought captive” and learning how to identify and overcome the destructive patterns in my life. Besides those, I also see my family doctor to work on my health (I am working to lose weight and get my blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure to normal levels), and I am open with those closest to me like my wife, my pastor, and some other friends at church.
I often tell stories about my time in the hospital as a way to break the ice around mental illness. However, I am frequently told, “but you aren’t like those other people.” That is partially true. I do not have the same illnesses that some of them have. There are more serious cases. However, the biggest difference that I have found is not so much the diagnosis, but the resources. I am blessed with a supportive family and health insurance. I have deployed those resources to the task of getting healthy. Those without such resources bounce around and get worse.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, help them find the resources that they can use. Speak with your pastor and find out what your church can do. If you are struggling, tell a supportive loved one and start finding your resources. They are all a part of getting to a better place.
Author, Parent, Husband, Christ-follower