Seeing a mental health professional regularly is one of the most important parts of maintaining high functionality with bipolar disorder. I see my psychiatrist once a month and my therapist every other week. This is what works for me. Your mental health professionals may recommend you come in more or less frequently. It all depends on how you’re doing and whether or not you are adjusting medications. For these appointments, it’s important to be prepared. Here are five ways you can prepare for your mental health appointment to get the most out of it.
1 Go over your mood tracking materials.
Whether you use a mood tracking app on your phone or keep a journal, it’s important to spend at least a few minutes going over your saved information so you know exactly how you’ve been doing since your last appointment. You may feel fine now, but how were you last week or last month? Are you in the midst of an episode? Remembering what you’ve been through helps them help you.
2 Evaluate how you feel physically.
Many people with bipolar disorder also have concurrent physical illnesses. For example, 24% suffer from migraines, 19% elevated lipids, 15% with hypertension. Any physical illness can easily trigger or exacerbate depression. The more your mental health professional knows about all that is going on with you, the better.
3 Update your medication list.
Both your therapist and your psychiatrist need to know what medications you’re taking, and not just psychiatric medications. If you take medications for thyroid disease, heart disease, etc., they need to know. Many types of medications affect mood and need to be considered in medication management.
4 Evaluate how well your medications are working.
If you are continuing to have symptoms of mania, hypomania or depression, it may be time for a change in medication. Also note whether or not you are experiencing any side effects. Many medications for bipolar disorder can cause gastric distress, drowsiness, dizziness, headaches and weight gain. Some of these will subside with time, but if they don’t and are intolerable, switching to another medication may be the best option.
5 Be honest.
Your life needs to be an open book for your mental health professionals. This starts with how you dress. Mental health professionals notice the small details. If you’re trying to dress to impress when you’re so depressed that showering is a chore, don’t fake it. Be honest about your moods. Be honest about your meds. Be honest about drugs and sex and everything else. You’re going to these appointments for help. Don’t cheat yourself by lying or holding back.
Bonus: Keep your follow-up appointment.
No matter how often your mental health professionals want to see you, please show up to your appointments. Going once is not going to magically make you better. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong experience that requires plenty of support. If taking time off of work is the primary problem, take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act. This requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to those with health problems, including time off.
Meeting with your psychiatrist or therapist is vital. Make sure you can take advantage of their expertise by being prepared for appointments instead of relying on them to coax it out of you. You deserve the best care possible, and helping yourself is part of the process.
Image credit: Hey Paul Studios