So, you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Now what?
Published: 20 February, 2019
Being diagnosed with a mental health condition can be an overwhelming experience. Here, a health professional and two people with lived experience shed some light on questions to ask, things to do and information on the next stage of your mental health journey.
Asking the right questions – Dr Jan Orman, General Practitioner and GP Services Consultant at Black Dog Institute
“I think the general assumption is that most people are horrified when they receive a mental health diagnosis, but that’s actually not the case,” says Dr Jan Orman, a general practitioner and the GP Services Consultant at Black Dog Institute.
“In many instances, people are relieved to know that there’s something describable wrong with them that other people have also experienced.”
Orman says that questions about treatment are a good starting point – some patients may need medication, some may need therapy, while others may require a combination of the two. Patients should feel comfortable asking what the options are for them and why the therapy recommended is the best fit for their circumstances.
“The choice of therapy option needs to be a collaborative process between the practitioner and the patient, not just a one-way conversation where the doctor tells the patient what to do,” Dr Orman says.
Questions about prognosis are common – understanding how long treatments take to work, what symptoms to expect, the likelihood of relapse and whether a condition is likely to improve over time are all important issues, and health professionals are well placed to talk through those issues with their patients.
Once a treatment plan is in place, integrating the reality of a mental health diagnosis into everyday life is the next step. This can involve the patient thinking about issues such as lifestyle change, having conversations with friends and family about their mental health in order to establish additional support structures or talking to employers about time off or modifications to normal work requirements.
“Someone with a mental health condition needs a team of people beyond their health care professionals to know what’s going on and keep an eye on them,” Dr Orman says.
“The GP is in the best possible position to help patients investigate the possibilities and help them choose the right path.”
Finding the right fit for therapy – Clarissa’s story
Clarissa Dharmaseta was diagnosed with anxiety and depression during her final year of school after experiencing the symptoms for a number of years. Only 17 at the time, Clarissa says that while the diagnosis itself was a relief, she felt overwhelmed at the thought of what her next steps should be.
“The first thought that I had was, ‘Do I need to be put on medication?’
“In hindsight, I wish I’d asked what type of therapy I was being prescribed, what the sessions would entail, and whether I’d need to prepare for them.
“It would also have been useful to get advice on how to talk to my friends and family about this, and how to get the school to understand my circumstances and better facilitate the learning for me. Things like that are really important when you’re transitioning back into your normal life.”
Having a support person with her in the early days of her treatment also turned out to be an important piece of the puzzle. Clarissa’s treatment regimen was focused on talk therapy, but she initially struggled to connect with the psychologist she’d been referred to. It was her mother who encouraged her to change providers – and to keep on changing until she found a good fit.
“When you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, it’s difficult to make decisions on your own. I think it’s important to have an advocate with you who’ll be able to go with you through the process,” Clarissa says.
“I went through quite a few mental health professionals before I found the right one for me – it was important to have an open mind and not settle for just anyone. Six years later, I still catch up regularly with my psychologist.”
Lifestyle changes for better mental health – Jamie’s story
Jamie Francis had been struggling with his mental health for a number of years before he sought help. He wasn’t surprised to receive a diagnosis of anxiety and depression – but he was determined to start moving forward.
A prescription for medication was the first big step.
“I tell people it’s like an imaginary line – when you’re below the line, you’re not really able to function; everything’s just a bit of a muddle and very disorientated. When you start to get treatment, you can enact some strategies, ask some more questions and start to strategise a bit more,” he says.
In addition to the medication, Jamie found a GP who helped him put a mental health plan together. In his own time, he focused on educating himself about his condition, reading widely and talking to people who had useful advice to offer.
“I went anywhere, to anyone and anything that gave me useful information, whether that was online using the resources on the Black Dog website, reading articles in magazines or newspapers, talking to my family or attending ongoing visits with my GP,” he says.
He also made some wider lifestyle changes to address both his physical and mental health – and as it turned out, these changes were critical to his recovery. He joined a gym, took up dancing, and also started going for long walks outdoors every day.
His walking habit soon progressed to running, which led him to a fitness group that participated in regular fun runs and charitable races. Many of these were focused on raising money for mental health, which brought Jamie into contact with lots of people who had similar stories of mental health diagnosis and recovery.
“I can honestly say the act of giving back was one of the most helpful things I experienced. Meeting other likeminded people left me feeling as though I belonged,” Jamie says.
You can read more about seeking help here or visit our mental health and wellbeing section to get more information on specific mental illnesses.
If you or someone you know is in crisis please call one of the following national helplines:
LIFELINE COUNSELLING SERVICE - 13 11 14
SUICIDE CALL BACK SERVICE 1300 659 467 (cost of a local call)