By Lindsay Steele
Several months ago, I wrote about my experience with anxiety. I was surprised by and grateful for the warm response I received from readers. They seemed to find some comfort in knowing they are not alone. Many people asked for my advice, but since I’m not a professional I couldn’t do much more than listen and offer emotional support.
In an attempt to address readers’ questions, I reached out to Chris McCormick Pries, clinical director for Vera French in Davenport and a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. She was kind enough to take time to answer some of the questions I received.
If I suspect I have a mental illness, who should I call?
Many times we read about symptoms of illnesses and think, “That’s me!” This occurs with health conditions, such as heart disease and cancers, and can also apply to psychiatric disorders. We wonder if we are reading too much into our interpretation but we don’t really have an opportunity to review our concerns with anyone who is truly knowledgeable.
If you suspect you may have a mental health problem, often the best place to start is with your family doctor. Usually, this health care provider knows you and your history and is aware of any complicating factors that may complicate or cloud the picture. To get the most from this visit or phone call, take time to reflect on what you believe are the symptoms and be realistic about how often these occur, their intensity and how long they last. Is there a trigger, or precipitating event that seems to start the symptoms? Together, you can plan the next steps.
I got medication from an ER doctor/clinic once, but it just made me feel weird and I stopped taking it. Do all mental health medications make people feel weird?
When symptoms are acute and interfere with our daily lives, we sometimes go to an Emergency Room or Urgent Care center. These providers are trained in diagnosis and treatment, but often don’t know you or your medical/family history. When it appears that medications may be helpful, they do their best to prescribe medications indicated in the care of that condition; however, there can often be side effects that sometimes feel worse than the symptoms! All medications have potential side effects that usually occur in the first few weeks of treatment, usually before the intended, beneficial effect is felt. Not everyone experiences side effects, but it is not uncommon. Sometimes it takes a trial with another medication before we have the relief of our symptoms.
If mental illness is so common, how come no one talks about it?
I think many people are talking about mental illness these days; family members, health care providers, school teachers, clergy and lay people. Some of these conversations are passionate personal experiences, others are misinformed opinion and some are well thought-out conversations. Mental illness is complex and treatments vary. The greatest challenge is to conduct informed discussions that are focused on finding solutions for specific problems.
It seems like the waiting lists for mental health care are so long. I need help now. Where can I go?
There is no doubt that a shortage of trained clinicians exists, not only in this community but throughout the country, and the reasons are complicated. If someone feels they need help now, the first recourse is the Emergency Room, if suicidal thoughts are present. Calling a crisis line, family doctor, school counselor, clergy member or a mental health center is also appropriate.
How do I find a counselor that’s right for me?
There are very good, experienced counselors throughout this community. Often asking friends or relatives to make a recommendation can be helpful. It is important to remember that the counselor/therapist is not a friend, but someone who has a background in counseling and identifies with you, the goals you want to work on, then offers a plan to help you reach those goals. Early in treatment it’s important to discuss “what happens if I have an emergency” and “what is my crisis plan.” Being prepared for these occasional crises can be very helpful.
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)