Protect Your Mental Health: How a Patient Advocate Can Help You
This past Tuesday was World Mental Health Day. Even though approximately 20 percent of adults in the U.S. deal with a mental illness in any given year, mental health struggles carry a stigma. Two common misconceptions are that mental health problems aren’t real and that those who struggle with them are to blame for their condition. This stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control and prevents them from seeking the help they need. To fight this stigma, the mental health community sets aside October 10th every year for World Mental Health Day to raise awareness of mental health issues.
Health Navigators Are Your Advocate for Both Mental and Physical Illnesses
Just like with physical illnesses, health navigators can advocate for you as you deal with a mental illness. Doctors and psychiatrists have only scratched the surface of mental health knowledge, so there is a lot of room for error. The medical community is not always adept at correctly diagnosing mental illnesses. A 2012 article in Current Psychiatry quoted studies that found that “26% to 45% of patients referred for ‘depression’ did not meet diagnostic criteria for a depressive illness.” Similarly, a 2009 study of 50,000 patients published in The Lancet found that general practitioners only correctly identified depression in patients in 47.3 percent of cases, with many doctors diagnosing depression in patients who did not actually suffer from it.
Patient Advocates Can Prevent Incorrect Mental Illness Diagnoses and Treatments
While misdiagnoses may be innocent, some doctors have a diagnosis bias towards illnesses they know how to treat—even if the patient shows few signs of that particular disorder. Dr. Mark Zimmerman, an associate professor at Brown University and director of outpatient psychiatry at Rhode Island Hospital, explains that:
“We believe that clinicians are inclined to diagnose disorders that they feel more comfortable treating… The increased availability of medications that have been approved for the treatment of bipolar disorder might be influencing clinicians who are unsure whether or not a patient has bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder to err on the side of diagnosing the disorder that is medication-responsive.”
In an interview with Reuters, Zimmerman further explains that the bias “is reinforced by drug company marketing,” but is concerning “because it is typically treated with mood-stabilizing drugs that can have side effects — including effects on the kidneys, liver, and metabolic and immune systems.” With knowledge like this, it is important to have a health navigator you trust to advocate not only for your mental health, but also for your physical health.
Even if your mental illness is correctly diagnosed, there is no “one size fits all” solution to mental health problems. Mental illnesses manifest themselves differently from person to person, and effective treatment can vary just as widely. One medication may work for one patient, and may be completely ineffective for another. One patient may not need medication at all, while another may need several to manage the same disorder. Patient advocates can help you work with your doctor or psychiatrist to find a solution that works for you.
Protect Your Mind and Body: Find a Patient Advocate You Trust
As with with a physical illness, having a patient advocate on your side as you find a diagnosis and treatment for a mental illness can mean the difference between a healthy mind and body, and a life overtaken by an incorrectly managed disorder.