An Open Letter to Everyone With Mental Illness

You’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness. Now what? Please know that recovery is possible through hard work in therapy and adherence to medication if prescribed.

Mental illness is not a character flaw or an inherent weakness. In many cases, such as with bipolar disorder, chemical imbalances in the brain require correction with medication. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness; reaching out is a sign of courage, strength, and willingness to dig deep and face what you may have buried a long time ago—buried for a good reason—buried because it’s painful to recall and to unpack.

© by Mary Long | Shutterstock

Source: © by Mary Long | Shutterstock

Please know that when you start therapy, you may feel worse before you feel better. As you and your therapist begin to poke and prod at the root of what brought you to treatment, you may struggle with complex thoughts and emotions. Please don’t get discouraged. Life will get better, and you will put in place the insights you have gained in therapy.

Therapy is a process and not a linear one. In all my years in therapy and as a psychotherapist, I have never seen therapy proceed in a straight upward trajectory. There will be steps forward and steps back. Please hang in there. Be honest with your therapist about what you are feeling and anything you may be doing to cope. She is there to help you and hopefully will not judge you for anything you are doing to help yourself manage (more about this later).

© by Paul Craft | Shutterstock

Source: © by Paul Craft | Shutterstock

Hopefully, you have a good therapist with whom you feel safe, and feel free to discuss even your deepest, darkest secrets. Not right away. I understand it takes time to build a connection and trust. You should not feel as though your therapist is judging you regardless of what you tell her.

Studies have shown that the most critical factor in a successful outcome of therapy is the therapeutic alliance. If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, consider finding someone with whom you feel more comfortable. Don’t settle.

My former psychiatrist, Dr. Lev, who consistently says that our work together saved my life and gave me a life-work living, was the fourth therapist I saw. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t persisted and found her.

You are worth finding someone who is the best fit for you.

Therapy is not just about the hour you spend in your therapist’s office each week. It would help if you mulled over what you and your therapist talked about and put in practice during the week what was discussed. Suppose you learned a coping skill such as mindfulness practice than practice. If you learned a new way of interacting with people, then practice. Would you work out with a trainer once a week, then not work out in that same way during your workouts for the rest of the week?

A word about medication: medication is not always evil. There are times when medication is necessary. I agree the trial and error process we have now of finding a medication that works and having to wait three to four weeks to determine if it is effective sucks. There is gene testing for antidepressants medications available, but unfortunately, studies have shown that gene results showed no evidence of effectiveness.

At times, symptoms get so severe that a combination of therapy and medication is one the most effective recourses available. I could not function without the medication I was prescribed. My father suffered from depression, and the illness is hardwired into my DNA. I will be on multiple antidepressants for the rest of my life. And that’s okay. If they help me function at an optimal level, I can take them each day and the side effects.

I hope this helps. If you have recently been diagnosed with a mental illness or even if you were diagnosed not so recently, please know that recovery is within reach.

Thanks for reading.


© Andrea Rosenhaft

Source: © Andrea Rosenhaft

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