Although mental illnesses have a biological component and are no one’s fault, and millions of people have such illnesses, there remains a stigma (shame or discredit) attached to mental health problems. Unless you are prepared, this stigma may prevent you from getting the help you need.
Many individuals who have received services have begun using the words “consumer” or “recipient” rather than “patient” to indicate that they are competent recipients of services rather than helpless victims. As a consumer, remember that you have a right to the best available services, and getting services should be more important than what people will think of the illness. This booklet lists a number of services, and all services that you receive are confidential (no information about your treatment, or even that you are receiving treatment, is given out to anyone except in an emergency).
Relationships With Mental Health Professionals
Consumers and mental health professionals should develop a common goal and work together toward that goal. In the most severe stage of the illness, the consumer wants relief from disabling symptoms, and the family (or other professionals) will probably be in the best position to know if the consumer is receiving good care and getting better. After the acute symptoms have diminished, the consumer should take a more active role in evaluating the treatment received. Do the consumer and the professional share the same treatment goal? Is the medication effective (correct dosage, side effects controlled, etc.)? Are ethical standards being adhered to? Are consumers treated equally regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, and income, and are they treated with dignity? Consumers and families should not feel intimidated by mental health professionals. Expect a cooperative relationship; don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.
Who and What Should You Tell
Consumers of mental health services are in a unique position to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. As your treatment progresses, you may wish to take appropriate opportunities to talk with those closest to you about your symptoms, diagnosis, medication, etc. As family and friends come to understand that mental illness is an illness like any other, you may want to encourage them to spread the word to persons they know, live near, and work with. As the community becomes better educated, you can take justifiable pride in having made the road to recovery easier for those who will follow you by helping to remove the stumbling block that stigma can create.
Coping When You’re First Out of the Hospital
When people first leave the hospital, they may feel positive about the possibilities ahead, but it is also natural to feel fearful, isolated, and unsure of their ability to cope. It is important to get as much support as possible, whether by surrounding yourself with family and friends (and letting them know your needs) and, if more social contacts are desired, by contacting a support group or one of the Mental Health Association’s peer programs. Putting some structure into your day and planning activities can help a great deal. Try relaxing activities such as painting, walking, listening to music, and anything else that you enjoy. Just getting out of the house every day can be a boost. Many former patients have noted the importance of setting reasonable goals and realizing that you can’t do everything when you’re first out of the hospital. It may be wisest to stay close to home and avoid making big decisions right away. One might choose to go back to work gradually or to do volunteer work before taking a paying job. In general, controlling stress is probably a helpful strategy. Getting stabilized on medications is an important priority for many people. Appointments with doctors and therapists should be kept, instructions written down, and medications taken as indicated. Finally, case managers and/or advocates can be a great help with the paperwork and interviews required by social service agencies with which you may be dealing.