I am glad we are having this conversation and I cannot say what treatments I think are the "right" ones. In reality, I think that treatment is different based on every person. And that is why I think it is important to speak to the fact that for most of us there is no easy solution to treatment.
I have had different mental health problems since I was 6 years old but did not start to receive treatment until I was 19. That means I have been at this treatment thing with psychyatrists and psychologists for 15 years. And clearly we know from my blog posts that I am not free from my illness. For many of us, treatment is just not that easy.
|Photo by Jeff Norris|
Second there is the issue of all the other lifestyle changes doctors suggest for treatment such as exercise, diet, sleep schedule, and meditation. Everyone I know, regardless of mental state, has a hard time keeping a balanced life at all times. For people with mental illness, it is especially hard to do so and we have less wiggle room for how much can get out of balance. In college, other people could barely sleep for a week and be just fine functioning. They would need a few days of extra sleep and could get right on back on track with life. For me, one night of bad sleep meant possibly weeks of worsening symptoms and I needed a lot of help to get back on track. Here again we need to be compassionate about treatment. If someone can not keep the perfect diet, keeps forgetting to take medication, has issues sleeping, etc... that does not mean they are not trying. The worst thing you can do for someone trying to make positive lifestyle choices is to argue that because they don't stick with it that they are failing and need to learn to make better choices, or that they just should not do it anymore because it is clearly not working. Our lives are worth fighting for.
|Photo by Jeff Norris|
Third, people also have co-occuring disorders so they may have many road blocks in their treatment plan. Such as for me diet is a huge help in my treatment but I also have a binge eating disorder which makes it very hard to stick with the right diet. If you have PTSD it can sneak up on you in times that you would not think have anything to do with a past traumatic event so watch out for that getting in the way. If you can find the link it is often something you can work through. What I really like about my therapist is that he looks at every "setback" as an opportunity to learn more about me and what we might need to work on in order to help me be healthy. That is different than the usual mentality that if you do not get better instantly you are not trying hard enough, make bad choices, and you won't ever get better.
Last, there is the inevitable "if this is an emergency dial 911" message on your doctors phone. Many doctors and other people think if you go to the psychiatric unit you will be cured, but that typically is just between a few days and a few weeks of treatment. It takes at least six weeks just to see if a medication has a chance of working for you. And there is little support for how to live life out of a treatment center. Honestly, most of us can't keep going back into the hospital and we need much more support in our every day life than most of our communities and insurance companies (if you are even lucky enough to have insurance) are willing to give us. You see a therapist and/or psychiatrist every day in a facility and then in regular life you might go to therapy once a week and see your psychiatrist once every six weeks. You have none of the outside stimulus, none of the people and situations that might contribute to your illness, and far less that can trigger you in a facility. Then you go back into the same life you had before and don't know how to manage. Going into treatment is beneficial to many people but the success rate could be even higher if we didn't just assume a few weeks in a hospital cured everyone and if we had better programming out of the hospital. Good care for a psych patient includes a plan after the hospital. A great start is if you have a loved one who is in a facility, to think about what changes you might need to make at home to help them keep up with treatment or how much assistance they might need with taking meds, eating, sleep, and exercising.
All this is to say, treatment is not simple and I don't know that we always have an understanding of how complicated it is. Some people ask me why I would write my blog if I am not "cured" or my illness is not under control. I write because my situation is much more common than we think it is. It can feel very lonely to look for resources on mental illness and often have it portrayed that there is a simple fix- if we would just take our meds and do what our doctors tell us. I wish it was not that hard. I wish there was a simple solution for everyone. Sometimes we have to just keep trying even if it does not work over, and over, and over again.