Seeking treatment from a healthcare professional (HCP) can be intimidating. As a result, it can be difficult to voice your opinion and advocate for yourself. This can be especially challenging when being treated for a mental health condition. Despite these challenges, self-advocacy is vital to the success of your care. By understanding the challenges and importance of self-advocacy, you can learn how to improve upon this skill.
Reluctance from Uncertainty
For most, being diagnosed with a disease is scary, partially due to uncertainty about the condition. Such concerns are often amplified when that condition is a mental health condition. Diseases like diabetes or hypertension, while significant and life-altering, are familiar to most people. The general idea of their trajectory and how to treat them is common knowledge. This can lead to more comfort in voicing your opinion on the matter.
Conversely, mental health disorders tend to be much more obscure or abstract. Awareness in society about what causes these conditions, how to treat them, and their prognosis is more limited and often negatively stigmatized. You may have questions about your condition and prognosis but be too anxious or embarrassed to ask. On the other hand, you might not know what to ask or who to direct your questions to. As a result, you might feel reluctant to engage in self-advocacy.
Importance of Self-Advocacy
The reluctance from these uncertainties can inhibit your ability to fully engage in the treatment process. Additional self-doubt and intimidation of speaking to a medical expert can dissuade you from voicing your opinion. Yet, you should speak up even if you have little working knowledge of your condition. Your first-hand knowledge of living with your disease and its symptoms is valuable. You know yourself better than anyone else, and advocating for yourself is vital for numerous reasons.
Being diagnosed with a new mental health disorder can feel like being stripped of control over your life. Suddenly you must take medications, go to health care provider appointments, see therapists, and make various lifestyle changes. If you cannot voice your opinion and desires regarding your care, it can make this sense of powerlessness worse.
While it is true that many of these things are beyond your control, you must be able to maintain some sense of autonomy over your health. Having the final say over your treatment is a fundamental right as long as it isn’t causing direct harm to yourself or others. To do this, you must ensure your voice is heard regardless of how much or little you know about your condition.
When you go to a medical expert for treatment, it is easy to feel like you are a passenger at the mercy of the provider driving your care. These feelings often stem from a reluctance to question someone highly educated, like a physician. This can be especially true if you don’t know much about your condition.
It is a common misconception that this is the standard and appropriate relationship between a provider and a patient. While this might’ve been true in the past, healthcare has evolved alongside the provider-patient relationship. Rather than the treatment being done to you, treatment is meant to occur with a provider in an equal partnership.
No one is perfect, and everyone is capable of making mistakes. The same is true for healthcare professionals, including leading experts in their field. This imperfection is one of the beautiful parts of being human, but it also means mistakes or miscommunication can occur when receiving treatment for your mental health disorder.
While some mistakes are beyond your control, being an active and outspoken participant in your care can prevent many errors from occurring. It’s not about undermining anyone’s authority or expertise. Instead, it’s about protecting your health and your life. While your provider cares about you and wants to help you, no one can invest as much interest in your health as you.
As with most skills, self-advocacy requires time, practice, and conscious effort. Yet, investing in your self-advocacy skills can pay dividends in the quality and satisfaction you feel about the care you receive. The following are a few key steps to remember when working on this skill.
As stated previously, treating your mental health condition is an equal partnership. The only way to contribute to that partnership is to understand your role and how you can contribute. To do that, you need to understand your situation and your treatment plan. If you have a question, you should ask it without hesitation. The more knowledgeable you are about your health, the better off you will be.
Trust, but Verify
While your HCP may be an expert on your mental health condition, they are still human and capable of mistakes. Medical error is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. Trust in your provider is essential for a functional partnership, but you shouldn’t trust blindly in something as important as your health. When possible, you should verify the information and do your research. It can not only protect you but make your provider’s job easier.
Be Open but Willing to Say No
When placing your trust in a provider, it is essential to be open-minded about their recommendations. Yet, that doesn’t mean saying yes to recommendations you disagree with. Sometimes the provider-patient relationship can feel like you have no say in what happens to you, but that is not true. It is always within your power to say no if you are uncomfortable or disagree. Sometimes these situations result from poor communication and can be resolved by asking more questions.
Advocating for yourself can be challenging when receiving treatment for your mental health condition. This is especially true when uncertainty, which often accompanies a mental health condition, is present. Despite how intimidating it can be, speaking up for yourself is essential to your well-being. At Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center, we understand how difficult it can be for you to find your voice and advocate for yourself. We aim to inform our clients of the importance of this and give them the tools necessary to be their own advocates. To learn more about taking charge of your mental wellness and having your voice heard, call us at (714) 942-4143.