What it’s really like to see a psychiatrist for your mental health
The first time I was told I needed to see a psychiatrist, my heart dropped. I was terrified. What I learned was that psychiatrists are much like other mental health professionals – except they deal with a variety of disorders and can prescribe medication.
This article was written by Hattie Gladwell for Metro.co.uk and was published on 9th August, 2017.
I’d been forced to the doctors after having a breakdown, and my GP decided I needed to receive some expert help.
I didn’t understand. My outburst had been one of many. Sure, I was the worst I’d ever been, but I assumed I’d calm down, shrug it off, and learn to cope like always.
And so I wasn’t prepared for the words: ‘I’m going to refer you to a psychiatrist’.
To me, psychiatrists sounded scary. I imagined men in white coats, examining your mind as you sat in an empty, cold room answering questions that you’d have to think twice about just to ensure you got to go home at the end of the day.
It sounds extreme, I know – but with the movie industry forcing the mindset that support for mental health only goes one way, you can’t help but think the worst.
I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I had been referred to a psychiatrist. It felt like a dirty word. I feared that telling anyone meant I’d be seen as crazy, unstable, as though I needed to be locked up.
Of course now, I realise that talking about seeing a psychiatrist is much like talking about seeing a GP – both are there to help your health, but just in different areas.
But at the time, I didn’t see it that way. I had a build up of nerves right up until the actual session. I was overthinking what I should say, how I should act. How far should I go in terms of opening up? How far was too far?
I arrived at the treatment centre and checked in. I sat in the waiting room surrounded by other people. I was surprised, everyone looked completely ‘normal’. I’d expected at least someone to be screaming or getting upset, but people were quite, invested in their phones and magazines. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was the only one who looked unsettled.
A man came down and called my name. He wasn’t what I expected. He had a kind face and a soft voice and he made me feel at ease immediately.
He led me up to the hallway where there was door after door leading to various appointment rooms. I sat down on the edge of my seat, not wanting to take my coat off or even put my bag on the floor. I didn’t plan on staying very long.
That was until he told me the session would take longer than what the general session would do as he needed to assess me. I got comfy, and decided to just give this thing a go.
He began by asking me questions about my lifestyle. My health, my relationships, my diet, my work life, my hobbies, my friends, you name it. He wanted to know everything.
I answered as honestly as I could, just so that he could get an idea of what I was like. He then went on to ask me about my moods.
I told him that I could go weeks feeling elated and weeks feeling suicidal. I’d have episodes where I’d do things like spend thousands of pounds in a short space of time…before screaming in a bath tub and crying myself to sleep.
I was shaking as I told him this. I wanted to run out of the room in fear he was going to take me away in a straight jacket. But he just nodded and noted it down, un-phased.
I was surprised. He didn’t flinch at all. It was almost like he’d heard it all before – and he probably had.
Instantly, I felt more relaxed. I’d told him details of my emotions that I’d never told anyone before, and it felt great. For the rest of the session, I felt comfortable enough to answer all of his questions.
By the end of the session, he gave me a rough diagnosis – he thought I may have Bipolar disorder, though he wanted to see me for more meetings to be sure before starting some medication.
A few sessions later, which were actually filled with nothing but comfort and conversation, I was officially diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, and I started my journey to finding a medication that worked for me. It was amazing to know I wasn’t crazy, that I actually had a mental health condition that I could learn to cope with instead of dealing with extreme mood swings I didn’t understand.
Since my diagnosis, which I was given over a year ago now, I’ve been seeing my psychiatrist around every six weeks. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, but he always makes sure he’s around for when I need him.
Though it was scary at first, I now have a great relationship with him. He’s the one person I can be totally honest with, without any fear of judgement.
And while we will mainly talk about my mental health, we do have the odd conversation about his family life and my work, which is nice – because it shows that he actually takes an interest in my well-being instead of forgetting about me once the session’s over.
My only regret throughout the whole experience is that I didn’t do it sooner. I really wish I’d sought help earlier to avoid so many meltdowns, but I was scared. And I realise this is how so many other people feel too.
We worry people won’t understand, that they’ll think we’re crazy and that things will get worse, but making the jump into getting help can change your life.
Psychiatry is not as scary as it sounds – it’s just a bigger word for therapy, which admittedly is a much nicer description for help – but it deals with the medication side, too.
If you are suffering from poor mental health and have been referred to a psychiatrist, don’t be scared. It gets so much easier after the first session.
And if you are worried about your mental health, and are wondering whether a psychiatrist might be the right step for you, see your GP, who can guide you into getting the help you need.
But always remember, getting help puts you on the right track to coping with your mental illness – and you won’t regret it once you’re on there.