We face all sorts of difficulties in our everyday lives, and our brains are under immense pressure to analyse messages from an increasingly hectic outside world and integrate them with a knowledge of what is happening to us internally. This is where things can get ever so complicated and, sometimes, quite frightening. So, sometimes we need help…..
Tackling the stigma, fighting the fear
No-one can exist without experience of symptoms of the mind, because all bodily experiences are processed by the brain. We do not blink at the idea that bones can break if too much pressure is applied, or that infectious organisms can cause fever, or that there are diseases which cause attacks on the self , or that there are states such as ‘essential hypertension’ whose underlying causes are not fully understood. Yet the idea that the brain and its associated phenomenon of ‘mind’ is also prone to glitches or breakdowns or disease processes has frightened us for centuries and still causes such consternation in our seemingly so sophisticated 21st century society that, even now, the mental suffering endured by humans is generally not taken as seriously as illnesses which have some sort of visible or physical evidence – and thus the dismissal of mental pain is amplified by social attitudes to mental illness.
Why should the fact that it is all in your head make it any less important to get that help? So – real doctors for physical health, but psychiatrists are for mental stuff – and that’s not real – right? Torturers know it – mental pain is the greatest pain that can be experienced. And, as with any symptoms that cause us to suffer, they can most often be helped by diagnosis and treatment by a medical doctor. It makes as much sense to take your mental pain to a psychiatrist as to take your stomach pains to a gastroenterologist. Psychiatrists are doctors who are then further trained in the diagnosis and management of mental disorders, and they are therefore in the best position to think about symptoms of mental pain in the context of a medical understanding of all the possible contributions of biological, psychological and social factors.
Gaining perspective and reassurance
Seeing a psychiatrist can perhaps be best seen as a way of getting help in understanding your symptoms, in thinking about possible reasons for the difficulties and considering what might help. As in most other medical specialities, medication can be useful, sometimes life-saving, in reducing and managing symptoms and long-term disability, but when you talk to a psychiatrist there should also be a discussion about the role of psychological treatments, both for symptom reduction and for experiencing new ways of feeling and thinking differently about the self and the world, which can reduce mental suffering over a lifetime. Often, just having an opportunity to have a discussion with an experienced psychiatrist can be therapeutic in itself and can reduce problems without the need for any further specific treatment.
Look after it – Your mind deserves the same medical attention as your body
Unfortunately, we all fear revealing our internal confusions and conflicts. Our minds are our own private place, the location of our self. So we try to hide the problems we are having, even from ourselves. Mental pain is dismissed as weakness or failure and the mentally ill are excluded and stigmatised because of that fear. We all want to be able to pretend that we don’t have that sort of problem ourselves – we’re not like them – we’re fine. It is shameful that fear and stigma has meant that our society has been so unwilling to treat mental illness with the sort of prominence and funding that, for instance, is afforded to cancer treatment or surgery. Perhaps the unique suitability of mental disorders to being assessed online will change that.
So take the first step – without leaving your home
Having the strength to admit that one has a problem and taking that first step to doing something about it by making an appointment to see a psychiatrist is a huge one. That is one of the reasons why having a consultation online is of such benefit. It allows you to take that leap from a place where you feel safe and in control.
I think the emotional sensation that my patients most commonly express after having a consultation is relief. Relief that they have at last had the courage to do something about their problem, relief that they now have a better understanding of what causes their pain – and relief that they now have a plan to deal with it.
Dr Elin Davies is a Psychiatrist with Psychiatry UK. You can view her complete profile here.