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Navigating Changes in Your Mental Healthcare    

Navigating Changes in Your Mental Healthcare

Art by Kayla Homenok

While brainstorming ideas for this month exploring Change, the first thought that popped into my head was one of my favorite reminders: “the only constant is change.” It’s an affirmation that has kept me hopeful when life throws a curveball. But change being ever-present does not negate the fact that some shifts can really rock our world, particularly changes in our mental healthcare.

Mental health and mental illness are extremely individualistic – every diagnosis is as unique as the person it’s prescribed to. My anxiety and your anxiety might both be labeled “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” yet we can have entirely different symptoms, triggers, coping strategies, and medication tolerance. We all have our own genetic predispositions, environmental influences, and perspectives that define our experiences, and those experiences can change over time, forcing us to rethink our mental health game plan. The coping strategy you’ve relied on for years may no longer be helpful, or your longtime therapist could feel ill-equipped to guide you through a new phase in your life – whatever it is, it can be disorienting. 

To help you get through these periods of flux with a little more ease, we outlined some general guidelines for navigating different mental healthcare changes, below. 

When you need different coping strategies

Whether your self-care routine isn’t quite right for you anymore, you’re looking for healthier coping methods, or you’re trying to implement coping methods for the first time, shifting the way you respond to stress and different life triggers can be tough. To better prepare for these moments, we recommend keeping a running list (the Notes app is extremely handy for this) of every coping strategy you’ve read about, scrolled past, heard on a podcast, or seen on TV that intrigues you. Include everything from the basics (taking a shower, going on a walk, taking a deep breath) to the more elaborate (alternate nostril breathing, journaling, emotion identification exercises). On days when just getting out of bed feels daunting, you won’t need to drum up the energy or motivation to figure out how to alleviate whatever you’re feeling because the options will be all mapped out for you. 

Another trick is to combat your discomfort or symptoms with a coping strategy that falls under the same category as whatever is triggering you. If you’ve been using our Madhappy Journal, you know the PEMS scale, in which you rank your Physical, Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual health each day. When one of those areas feels undervalued, try an activity that supports the same aspect of your health. For example, if your anxiety feels very physically uncomfortable (tightness in the chest, restlessness, stomach ache) try a physical coping strategy: whether it’s a “yoga for anxiety” video, a walk around the neighborhood, or giving yourself a reflexology massage to relieve tension. If your depression has you feeling emotionally drained, then engage in activities that fill your emotional cup. Maybe that’s journaling about what emotions you are feeling, meditating to hold space for those emotions, or calling a friend to chat through what you’re going through. 

When you need to make a change to your medication

“Medication is very important for mental health,” says Dr. Charmaine Semeniuk, Medical Director and Principal Investigator at Synergy Research Centers, a psychiatric medical facility. “When the neurons are modulated they can really help with your mood, so don't disregard neurochemicals.” However, changes in our body chemistry and hormone balance, which are inevitable, can change the way we respond to medication. You can be on the same medication for years when, suddenly, your reaction to it completely changes. If you start to notice symptoms previously managed by your medication coming back up, it might be an indicator that your body requires something different moving forward.  

The key is to speak to your doctor first, as abruptly stopping psychiatric medications can be dangerous. Get specific on your symptoms and what’s changed so you and your doctor can find the best new option for you. All medications have different rules for changing the dosage, Dr. Semeniuk explained. When switching or adding to your medications, you may experience a “washout” period between the cessation of the previous drug and/or introduction to a new one. This can cause swings in mood, behavior, thoughts, and/or symptoms so make sure to have some extra support in place for this period. Set and honor boundaries, schedule a mental health day, have therapy scheduled, and be gentle with yourself throughout the process. 

When you need to switch up your support system

Our support system changes all the time. Perhaps you’ve put in place important boundaries for yourself that your loved ones aren’t responding well to, or you're new to working on your mental health and don’t have folks in your life that recognize the importance of prioritizing their mental wellbeing. Whatever it may be, the key is to find a support system that’s robust, honest, and diversified. 

Diversifying your support system is one of the healthiest ways to maintain a positive relationship with yourself and others. It’s not fair or appropriate to rely on one person to be your friend, partner, mentor, and therapist. In other words, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Assess how different people in your life provide you with different types of support. Perhaps you go to your mom for emotional support but your best friend for tough love. Having an open line of communication between you and your support system is also crucial. Tell your support system what you need instead of letting them assume how you want them to support you, and do the same for them. Similarly, respect boundaries by asking the people in your support system if they have the bandwidth to chat through a challenge with you. By giving them the space to say whether they can or cannot be of support, you’re showing them that you value their time and avoiding the potential for resentment. 

When communicating boundaries for the first time, like telling a friend that you no longer wish to discuss politics with them, you may be met with pushback or guilt-tripping. If someone is not willing to respect them, you may need to make the challenging decision to either avoid certain topics or disengage with them altogether in order to protect your peace. In the words of the ever-wise therapist Minaa B., “You can’t change people, but you can decide how to engage with them.”

When you want to change your therapy

Therapy can be extremely beneficial to our mental health, but it can take work to find the right therapist or form of therapy that works best for you.  Perhaps you’ve grown a lot with your current therapist but now feel that you've reached a plateau, or maybe you had a bad experience once and wrote it off forever, but now could use the support. Change is inevitable, and you may need a different person or different style of therapy throughout different phases of your life. In the words of the ever-wise Ted Lasso, “All people are different people,” and the same goes for therapists.  If your current situation isn’t helping, consider trying a new therapist or type of therapy that may be more effective. 

When looking for a new therapist there are a few tricks to help you find the right fit: Pick a therapist that “speaks your language.” Consult with a few to find someone you click with and whose guidance you can trust. Some helpful questions to ask during consultations include: What is your therapeutic approach? What therapeutic methods do you use and will they work for my particular situation? Have you worked with clients who have [your symptoms or concerns]? What client population do you specialize in? 

You can also research other forms of therapy that might be more helpful for your particular concerns. “You don’t have to do CBT forever,” NAMI San Diego’s Community Development Specialist, Micaela Cunningham, reminds us. “Throughout the phases of our personal development, we may need to try out different styles [of therapy] to see what lessons or perspectives we can gain from viewing ourselves through another lens.” If you are working through trauma and have experience with CBT, perhaps look into EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). You can also explore traditional practitioners, holistic approaches, solution-oriented approaches, and psychodynamic therapy. Similarly, if you’ve only ever worked with a therapist one-on-one, exploring support groups and group therapy may bring about new perspectives and provide a sense of community as well. 

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414.