My first psychiatrist appointment was nothing like I expected it to be. I’d put off seeking psychiatric care for years due to the extensive stigma that comes with seeking professional help for mental health. But, struggling as hard as I have these past few years really caught up. Finding my new normal post-surgery while navigating a worldwide pandemic is challenging, to say the least. Also, losing two family members I was attached to didn’t help matters. Hence why I made the decision to reach out for help.
Reasons for Scheduling My First Psychiatrist Appointment
I’ve had longstanding mental health issues for as long as I can remember. Ultimately, the recurrent relapse of these issues led me to schedule my first psychiatrist appointment. I’ve battled depression, anxiety attacks, body image issues, disordered eating, suicidal ideation, and self-harm in the past. Despite these severe and often debilitating problems, I never sought professional help. This was due to a combination of reasons. Starting with fear of judgment from my family and close friends. And not really knowing where to begin or how to start. Additionally, there were also limiting beliefs and misconceptions I had regarding psychiatric care.
What Prevented Me From Seeking Care Earlier
The majority of these beliefs centered on what others thought about my mental health journey or mental health in general. For instance, the implicit bias and stigma others carry regarding mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, etc. All of this increased my shame surrounding my issues. Being told you’re attention-seeking and having your problems invalidated is hurtful. Or, having someone refuse to take mental illness seriously can make it challenging to get the help and support you need.
Consequently, I didn’t want others to label me unfairly because of my mental health or judge me if I decided to manage my mental health with medication. Partly caused by misinformation and stigma surrounding medication management for mental illness. This is so unfortunate since, for many of us, medication helps improve our quality of life. However, I reached a point where I knew I couldn’t continue on the path that I was on, and psychiatric intervention was my best option.
What My First Psychiatrist Appointment Was Like
After speaking with my therapist and getting a referral, I met with my psychiatrist via a virtual appointment. And it was nothing like I expected. I expected it to be more clinical, more I’m going to tell you what to do. And I even worried that I was going to be told that I was making it all up and nothing was wrong with me.
Yet, it was a pleasant experience despite the circumstances. And I felt heard and validated. Maybe this was because my psychiatrist was the polar opposite of clinical. She had this laid-back energy, which made it easy to talk to her and answer some pretty in-depth questions regarding my health history. All the while, she remained open and friendly, professional, straightforward, and informative. All of which I appreciated.
The appointment consisted of two parts. The first part was focused on my prior health history. In contrast, the second part focused on my current health history and reason for seeking psychiatric care. This included a series of open-ended questions that provided context into the nature of my appointment. There was also a part in which my current symptoms were discussed in more detail. Information regarding how long I experienced these symptoms and how often they occurred was discussed.
The Diagnostic Process
Getting a psychiatric diagnosis is a bit different than receiving a traditional diagnosis from your primary care provider. There aren’t blood tests or imaging scans that can detect the presence of mental illness or not. Instead, psychiatrists rely on symptoms and behaviors as well as cyclical patterns and grouping of symptoms. Additionally, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (current version as of 2020 is the DSM-5) is how mental disorders are classified. Furthermore, it’s what’s used to diagnose and treat patients.
My psychiatrist gave me a tentative diagnosis of bipolar disorder 2 based on the information she received from me during my evaluation. And the symptoms that I was presenting at the time of my appointment. What was comforting was that she didn’t just diagnose me and pass me a prescription. She took the time to explain why I was receiving the diagnosis, what bipolar disorder was, and continually asked how I felt about this and allowed space for me to ask questions.
Furthermore, she made it a point to discuss my management options and the pros and cons of each. She also explained why she was prescribing my particular medication, how it would work, and what the process would entail. Again, she asked for my feedback and made sure I was comfortable with the treatment plan and strategy.
Treating Bipolar Disorder
One crucial piece of information my psychiatrist shared with me was that there are no alternative medicines approved for the treatment of a bipolar disorder. Many homeopathic methods can increase mood swings and either trigger depressive episodes, mixed episodes, or manic/hypomanic episodes. However, treating bipolar disorder via medication management and cognitive behavior therapy is beneficial. When these are done consistently and regularly, many patients lead healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives.
As for my treatment plan, the main goal was to get me out of my depressive episode and stabilize my moods. Hence why I was prescribed a mood stabilizer. Synonymous with its’ name, mood stabilizers work to increase mood stability and establish a baseline. To accomplish this and find a dose that worked best for me, I started on a low dosage and slowly worked my way up until my symptoms subsided, and I reached my baseline. At this point, I can focus on managing my condition and addressing any residual symptoms if necessary.
Getting psychiatric care was nothing like what I’d experienced for endometriosis or my painful periods. Unlike these past appointments, there was great care to look into my medical history and discuss my symptoms. I was listened to and validated. Additionally, I wasn’t told what I “should” do but was asked if I felt comfortable. This gave me the feeling that I was a part of my treatment plan. And, I felt respected, seen, heard, and understood.
Contrary to misconceptions regarding how psychiatrists push medication onto their patients, I felt the exact opposite. All of the options were discussed with me, as well as what I could expect without treatment. The medication’s purpose, potential side effects, and what I could expect were discussed with me at length. And after all of this was discussed with me, I was asked if I wanted to pursue medication management. It was 100% my choice.
Navigating Psychiatric Care
I’m not ignorant or naive enough to assume this will be everyone’s experience receiving psychiatric care. There are going to be good psychiatrists like mine who are fantastic at what they do and bad psychiatrists who need to improve their care level. However, if you’re debating whether seeking psychiatric care is right for you, I encourage you to pursue it. As always, advocate for your health by understanding the basics of mental health and psychology. If you work with a therapist, seek their advice on getting a referral for a psychiatrist. Because chances are they know a few that they refer their clients to.
Also, know what you’re seeking to gain from psychiatric care and what you need from your psychiatrist. What are the deal-breakers, and what will make you feel comfortable with receiving psychiatric treatment. All of these things are important to consider when making steps towards prioritizing your mental health.