With more and more cuts to the public mental health system, it is becoming increasingly difficult to access care unless you or your loved one is in crisis. Fortunately, for those who are not in crisis, there are some resources available to help cope with mental illness, including several excellent resources that are available on the internet.
One example is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website which contains several excellent self-help resources. One publication in particular, Recovering Your Mental Health – A Self-Help Guide includes some things that you can do right away to help yourself feel better.
In addition to going to see a doctor or other health care professional who you like and trust and taking your medication as prescribed, there are many simple, safe, inexpensive and free things that you can do to help yourself feel better. These include:
Telling a good friend or family member how you feel. Talking with someone else who has had similar experiences and feelings is very helpful because they can best understand how you feel. First ask them if they have some time to listen to you. Ask them not to interrupt with any advice, criticism, or judgments. Tell them that after you get done talking you would like to discuss what to do about the situation, but that first you need to talk with no interruptions to help yourself feel better.
If you have a mental health provider you feel comfortable with, tell her or him how you are feeling and ask for advice and support. If you don’t have a health care provider and would like to see someone professionally, contact your local mental health agency. (The phone number can be found in the yellow pages of your phone book under Mental Health Services. Alternatively, contact resources identified in the back of this booklet.) Sliding scale fees and free services are often available.
Spend time with people you enjoy—people who make you feel good about yourself. Avoid people who aren’t supportive. Do not allow yourself to be hurt physically or emotionally in any way. If you are being beaten, sexually abused, screamed at, or are suffering other forms of abuse, ask your health care provider or a crisis counselor to help you figure out how you can get away from whoever is abusing you, or how you can make the other person stop abusing you.
Ask a family member or friend to take over some or all of the things you need to do for several days—like taking care of children, household chores and work-related tasks—so you have time to do the things you need to take care of yourself.
Learn about what you are experiencing. This will allow you to make good decisions about all parts of your life, like: your treatment; how and where you are going to live; who you are going to live with; how you will get and spend money; your close relationships; and parenting issues. To do this, read pamphlets you may find in your doctor’s office or health care facility; review related books, articles, video and audio tapes (the library is often a good source of these resources); talk to others who have had similar experiences and to health care professionals; search the Internet; and attend support groups, workshops or lectures. If you are having such a hard time that you cannot do this, ask a family member or friend to do it with you or for you. This may be hard for you if you don’t normally ask anyone for favors. Try to understand that others are often glad to do something for you if they know it is going to help.
Get some exercise. Any movement, even slow movement, will help you feel better—climb the stairs, take a walk, sweep the floor. Don’t overdo it though.
If possible, spend at least one-half hour outdoors every day, even if it is cloudy or rainy. Let as much light into your home or work place as possible—roll up the shades, turn on the lights.
Eat healthy food. Limit your use of sugar, caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, soda) alcohol and heavily salted foods. If you don’t feel like cooking, ask a family member or friend to cook for you, order take out, or have a healthy frozen dinner.
To get a free copy of this publication or to read about other self-help resources, go to: https://store.samhsa.gov/product/SMA-3504
Additional Self Help Suggestions
In the spring 2010 issue of NAMI Ohio News Briefs, Dr. Rakesh Ranjan, a psychiatrist from Medina Ohio, wrote a piece entitled, Dilemma of Poor Access to Psychiatric Care: A Guide for Self Help. Below are some excerpts from that article:
“…there are host of resources, activities and methods which could be utilized to address your mental health needs while you are waiting to see a psychiatrist. Some of these are described below:
• Internet-based information: We know knowledge is very empowering. With the internet, it is now much easier to educate yourself about your psychiatric symptoms and/or condition. I recommend two websites: http://www.webmd.com and http://www.nimh.nih.gov. It is important to avoid less reputable websites. Also, many chat rooms and on-line groups can be very misleading and confusing. Your local library/bookstore is also an excellent source for information.
• Radio and television psychiatry: Radio and television psychiatrists and psychologists provide information and at times advise on various mental health issues. This could be valuable to some people.
• Self-help groups: Support from and sharing of experiences with other people with your condition can be therapeutic, illuminating, and validating. These groups are typically facilitated by a consumer and are free of charge. Most communities offer a variety of self-help groups, e.g. alcoholics anonymous, NAMI Family-to-Family, NAMI Connections, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) support groups, etc.
• Diet-modifications: As the connection between body and brain has become more apparent with recent research, healthier diet and lifestyle also become more relevant to our mental health. Specific manipulation of diet such as eliminating milk and wheat products has been found to have limited benefit for some people with schizophrenia and autism.
• Nutritional supplements: There is limited evidence that B-complex vitamins, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin D, folic acid, and magnesium can be helpful adjuncts in treatment of conditions such as depression, anxiety disorder, ADHD (attention deficit disorder), drug-induced psychosis, etc. These are best utilized in consultations with a nutritionist.
• Regular exercise: Again, a healthier lifestyle can lead to overall better mental health. Aerobic exercises, in particular, are known to increase secretions of endorphins, chemicals produced by the human body which promote a happier mood. In particular, yoga and eastern martial arts, e.g. Tai Chi are considered to help us gain a balance between our physical, emotional, and cognitive facets of ‘self’. There is limited evidence that these forms of exercise may be beneficial in some people with depression, schizophrenia, and autism.
• Spirituality: The role of faith and prayer in human healing should never be under-estimated. There is early scientific evidence that exercise of faith and prayer brings about positive changes in our brain and body.
• Biofeedback: It is a process in which people learn to control muscle tension and involuntary body functions e.g. heart rate and skin temperature. It has been found to be effective for some people in treating panic disorder, phobias, depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, etc.
• Acupuncture: This Chinese system of inserting needles into the body at specific points is believed to balance the endocrine system and thus regulate certain body-brain functions such as heart rate, body temperature, respirations, sleep patterns and emotional response. It has been found to be beneficial for some people with substance abuse disorders, depression, anxiety and ADHD, etc.
• Various forms of therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy, pet therapy, art therapy, music/sound therapy, massage therapy, guided imagery, etc., have all been found effective in improving overall sense of well-being and/or treating certain psychiatric conditions. It is crucial to realize that none of the above is a substitute for traditional treatment which is typically a combination of psychotropic medications and psychotherapy.
All of the above could be utilized as an adjunct to traditional treatment. Finally, do not forget your Primary Care Physician with whom you should work closely utilizing any or all treatment modalities until your first appointment with a psychiatrist.”
For more articles by Dr. Ranjan, visit his blog at: http://www.drrakeshranjan.blogspot.com.
Educate Yourself about Your Medications
Advances in mental health medications over the past two decades have been monumental, and have changed millions of people’s lives for the better. However, the impact of mental health medications is highly individualized, so you and your doctor must work as a team to determine the most appropriate medication(s) for you. Below is a list of questions that you can ask your doctor about the medications you are currently taking or the medications your doctor is considering prescribing for you.
What are the common name, product name, product category, and suggested dosage level of this medicine?
What does the physician expect the medication to do? How long will it take to do that? How well has this medicine worked for other people?
What are the possible long- and short-term side effects of taking this medicine? Is there any way to reduce the risk of experiencing these side effects?
What, if any, restrictions (like driving or avoiding certain foods) need to be considered when using this medicine?
How are medicine levels in the blood checked? What tests will be needed before taking this medicine and while taking the medicine?
How do I know if the dose should be changed or the medicine stopped?
How much does it cost? Are there any programs that would help me cover some or all of the costs of the medications? Is there a less expensive medication that I could use instead? Can generics or non-brand name medications be substituted for any the doctor suggests?
Are there any medications or supplements that I shouldn’t take at the same time as these? What about over-the-counter medications?
If your symptoms are so bad that you are having trouble understanding this information, ask a family member or friend to learn about the medication and to help you decide whether this is the right course of treatment for you.