Three mental health lessons from 2020

This time next week, I will be completely off the two medications that have caused the majority of my mental health issues for the past 10 months.

It will have taken me eight weeks to complete a withdrawal process that usually takes 4-12 months, given my starting dose. And I am weirdly proud of that.

It’s strange to think that something so completely foreign to my life a year ago is now a source of such pride.

My biggest takeaway from this experience is not to solely rely on the advice of medical professionals. Sure - listen to it and, if it is working, go full speed ahead.

But if something seems off - if a treatment is not working, if your family members raise red flags, if your symptoms get worse - I would tell myself to:

✨ Do your own health research - particularly about medications. The caveat here is that you have to look for sources of reliable information; don’t just Google it. One way to do this is to ask your chemist for information when they are filling your prescription. After my hospital stay, my chemist sat my husband and I down for a consultation and gave me a double-sided A4 handout on each medication so I knew the risks, the side effects, the long-term challenges and more.

✨ Raise your concerns until they are heard. When treatment with antidepressants wasn’t working for me in June, I did push for a change - but all that meant was that I tried two other types of antidepressants over the following three months. I remember in August telling my psychiatrist I felt suicidal, which she attributed to PMS. This should have been a red flag that her mode of treatment was outdated and not working for me.

✨ Get a second opinion. By the time I realised I needed a second opinion, I was in crisis and my only option was hospitalisation. But things with my psychiatrist had felt off for months. There is nothing wrong or offensive about requesting a referral for a second opinion on your treatment. You are your best advocate and if I’ve learned anything this year, it is that you have to prioritise your well-being over people pleasing.

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