When you are attending medical appointments, it’s important that you are prepared to advocate for yourself to get the diagnosis and treatment that you need.
These tips can apply to any illness, not just Bipolar Disorder. I also use them for my Fibromyalgia and other mental illnesses. They can apply in any setting, whether this is with your local doctor, a specialist or with psychiatric services.
1. Ensure you are being heard
When you go to an appointment it’s important to make sure the doctor is truly listening to you. At times, unfortunately especially with mental health conditions, things that you are saying can be missed or overlooked by doctors. Sometimes it can be really scary to go to appointments and you can forget what you were going to say or leave something out.
A really great way to ensure that nothing is missed is to make a list before you go of everything you want to talk about. This will help make sure you don’t forget anything even if you get flustered. If you suffer from anxiety, you can write a more detailed list so you can just hand it to the doctor without needing to speak much at all. I’ve done this before when it’s been a really difficult appointment and I knew that my anxiety was going to be high.
It’s also a good idea to ask the doctor to keep the list if it’s something really important so that they have a written a record. This helps ensure nothing has been missed and allows other professionals to refer back to it in the future.
2. Don’t allow your feelings to be dismissed
With many conditions including mental illness, too often professionals don’t take what you are saying seriously, or dismiss how you are feeling. I want to state here that not all professionals are like this, some are truly wonderful.
If you feel they haven’t understood, don’t be shy of repeating yourself again and telling them that this is something you are really concerned about. If you feel that you really aren’t being taken seriously or even that you just don’t mesh well together, for example if it’s a therapy session or a counsellor, don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion orask to see someone else.
Finding a doctor that will really listen and understand is vital, and they are out there. It took me a while to find the right one for me in a sea of less than satisfactory experiences, but it was so worth it when I did, and from there I have met lots of amazing mental health professionals.
3. Keep notes on every appointment
Keep notes of all the dates you attended appointments and the doctor you saw, as well as what went on during and after the appointment. This could include any medications you were prescribed, what the doctor said, what was addressed during the appointment, and even how you felt about it. This allows you to keep track of your progress and treatment, and deal with any problems that may arise.
If there is something important such as results of tests or anything else that you would like to see, you can ask the doctor for a copy of your records to keep. This allows you to keep track of what is happening, to see what notes are being written and ensure you are happy with them, and also can empower you to feel that you are in control of your own treatment.
4. Keep notes on all your symptoms
Keeping notes on all of your symptoms can allow you to be even more aware of what is going on through the process of thinking about them and writing them down. It can help you to see any patterns that might be important. This sounds really simple but I often think I’m completely aware, and then when I set time aside to write things down I can find something that I have missed.
These notes also allow you to be more accurate when talking to medical professionals. You can even show them your notes allowing them to get a clearer and more definitive picture of your symptoms, how they are affecting you and how doctors may be able to help you.
5. Ask someone to go with you for support
Going to medical appointments can be nerve wracking at the best of times, even more so if they are important appointments or if you suffer from anxiety. Asking someone to go with you, even if they just wait outside, can give you that extra bit of support you need to make you feel more comfortable.
If you feel happy with them coming into the appointment with you, they can be there to hold your hand and be a second ear. They can even speak up for you as back up if they need to and if you agree you are happy with this beforehand.
Advocating for yourself can be hard especially if you are not in a good place mentally, but the results can mean you getting the treatment you need and deserve. For me, it has allowed me to find the right medication and therapy that I need to be more stable and face my daily challenges.