Whether you’re worried you may be experiencing a postpartum mood disorder, or you’re just feeling a little overwhelmed, and you’d like to check in with a healthcare provider, opening up about mental health can be scary. It can be tempting to let healthcare providers take the more active role when it comes to addressing those concerns - they’re the experts, after all, right? But your mental health is exactly that - yours - and taking an active role in your treatment and your plans for the future will help to make sure you’re making the plan that fits your life the best.
One of the biggest parts of advocating for yourself in any kind of setting is knowing what you want. This means knowing what the options are, what you feel most strongly about, and having a framework for what you’re asking so that you know how to interpret your healthcare provider’s suggestions. This can feel especially tricky in a medical context, but research is just one part of the process, and not the most important one. The most important part is making sure your healthcare provider is someone you trust and feel comfortable talking through your options with. Your provider may talk you through the approach that they think might be the best place to start, but if that approach doesn’t sound like something you want, it’s important to be able to ask about the specifics of why your provider is suggesting it, and what the alternative options might be.
Your healthcare provider is most likely going to have more information than you about courses of treatment, and your options. This doesn’t need to mean that they have more power in the conversation than you, though. For one thing, you are the only person who knows what you’re feeling, and because of this, you’re an expert on what’s going on in your body and your brain, even if you don’t always have the technical language to describe it.
Mental health concerns can make people feel powerless, which is why it’s especially important to remember that these feelings are exactly that - feelings, senses, and impressions. For one thing, it can be important to remember that, in the U.S., all healthcare visits are confidential, since all patients have a right to privacy under the law. Even if it’s your mental health that you have concerns about, you have the same right to control in your own health decisions as anyone else.
One concrete way to take control in this area is to know what your insurance entitles you to - you may need a referral from your primary care provider before you can talk to a mental health professional or another specialist, but, depending on your insurance, you may not. Your insurance company probably has a helpline you can call to ask about the specifics of your health plan. Even if you don’t need a referral from your primary care provider to meet with a mental health specialist, you still may want to talk to them about recommendations for mental health professionals, but knowing that this is a ‘nice to have’ rather than a requirement can help you feel more in control of the situation.
As you work to engage with your mental health, it’s important to remember that your healthcare provider is on your team - but you’re always going to be your team’s captain.