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Should I go with my husband to his first psychiatrist appointment?

In obsessively checking our blog stats recently, I found that someone had found Depression’s Collateral Damage by Googling “Should I go with my husband to his first psychiatrist appointment?”  Allow me to answer that question:

Yes.  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.  In other words, yes (assuming that you yourself are a reasonably mentally healthy and stable person).  If he’ll let you.  Some will resist or refuse, and the best you can do is keep trying. 

Here’s why: (Note: I’m using the word “husband” because that’s how the search was worded.  Substitute wife, partner, whatever fits your situation, as needed.)

• You have every bit as much at stake here as your husband does.  Depression and other mental illnesses SERIOUSLY affect the lives of everyone in the home and family system, and you deserve a say in and full knowledge of what’s going on regarding treatment.

•Depressed and otherwise mentally ill people are very often unable to articulate clearly and accurately what they’re doing/feeling/experiencing.  You can provide valuable perspective.  Don’t hijack the visit, don’t contradict, don’t argue.  Just offer what you’ve observed.

*Depressed and otherwise mentally ill people tend to have difficulty processing what’s being said to them.  They may misunderstand or forget what the doctor’s said.  Someone with a clear mind needs to hear what the plan is, ask questions, and take notes.

*The medical profession needs to understand that healing from mental illness does NOT have to be a one-on-one venture.  The involvement of close community in support and assistance not only helps the ill person, it helps the loved ones around him recover from the trauma of mental illness, as well.

*Psychiatrists are in the profession of dispensing medication for the relief of mental illnesses.  I realize that a good doctor is well aware that there’s a lot more to healing than throwing medications at a person.  However, in my experience (and I’ve had plenty) psychiatrists are likely to pile on the meds because that’s what works for some people.  It doesn’t work for everyone.  And you need to be on hand to remind him or her that your loved one is NOT everyone.

*This person who is struggling with mental illness is someone you care a great deal about.  You want him to have the best chance possible of getting on a path toward healing.  He probably can’t do it alone.

Helping someone through the treatment process is not an easy road to follow.  Don’t forget to take care of yourself along the way.

-Amy

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17 Responses

  1. FYI, I did NOT tag this post “substitute wife” as the tags suggest. Ah, the vagaries of word processing…

  2. I have done mental health counseling for eighteen years and have never been able to find a psychiatrist who doesn’t just dispense meds. I would love to have a psychiatrist to consult with who listens, considers each case individually, and doesn’t think meds are automatically the best thing for every client. Moreover, I would love to meet a psychiatrist who enjoys doing therapy and has excellent clinical skills. Not only have I never found such a psychiatrist, I have never met another counselor who has found one. I usually send clients to their family doctors to discuss whether medication is warranted, as they tend to be more cautious than psychiatrists, in my experience.

    • I totally agree, David. A friend told me that her husband, just diagnosed with bipolar, came home with three meds after his first psych. appointment. It was suggested that he also seek counseling, but he chose not to do so. Yikes!

      • Yes, yikes! People kind of divide right down the middle on this. Some want to take a pill and avoid counseling at all costs. Others will do counseling but want to avoid meds at all costs. Of course studies show that for many issues (depression and anxiety certainly among them), a combination of the two is most effective. I’ve had clients leave and never return when I simply suggested they see their doctor to ask his/her opinion about the usefulness of medication in their case, often just for short-term purposes. Medication has been a huge force for healing in my life, but most clients who might benefit from medication will not need to be on it long-term.

  3. I was quite surprised during my first hospital stay that the Psychiatrist was only prescribing meds. Definitely not the couch you see on TV. My major issue at the time was what to tell my employer, and he told me I would “just have to figure that out”.

    • Wow, that’s singularly unhelpful. But not a surprise. For practical, how-to-survive advice, I’d turn to a clinical social worker every time. As an aside, the first psychiatrist my husband and I encountered when he began his journey told us in no uncertain terms that medication for depression is a completely useless and we shouldn’t even go down that road. Again, completely unhelpful. There are good psychiatrists out there, but they can be very hard to find.

      • Thankfully, my therapist is a clinical social worker, so at least I’m ahead there. You’re absolutely right – finding a good Psychiatrist is nearly impossible.

  4. A VERY frustrating, and unfathomable aspect of Washington state law is that anyone over the age of 13 has complete autonomy when it comes to MENTAL health medical treatment. I kid you not. I can force my 13 year old to go to the doctor and take regular, medical treatment, but she is 100% in control of any mental health care… she can refuse it, and I have absolutely NO rights to any of her medical information. The psychiatrist will not include me in the therapy, NOR will they even discuss IN ANY WAY any of her diagnosis, things they talk about, they won’t give me any information at all!

    This is the complete truth – when I was talking to the insurance company, they had to get my 13 year old daughter on the phone and ASK HER PERMISSION for them to discuss any aspect of her billing issues with ME!

    UN-FREAKIN’ believable… but hey, this is the state that freakin’ made pot legal… grrrrr , it’s soooo frustrating!!!!!

    • That is absolutely appalling. Full-fledged adults can’t handle their own mental health care in many cases. I’m so very sorry to hear this and to imagine what you must be going through. It’s a travesty.

  5. I absolutely agree that having a family member or friend sit in on a doctor’s appointment. When I was at my worst with bipolar depression I could literally not articulate what was wrong with me. Combine that with the fact that my psychiatrist over-medicated me then I was in bad shape. My dad went with me to the appointment by my request and told the doctor that I was over-medicated and the doctor denied it. My dad pushed him on that and eventually the doctor gave way on that and reduced my meds.

    I know a lot of you mention bad experiences with psychiatrists and I have had my share, but I can tell you that there are good ones out there so don’t give up on them. I happen to think that a psychiatrist is better qualified to diagnose and treat mental illness.

    One myth is that psychiatrists do therapy. Of course it was Freud who came up with this, but once effective medications started appearing they moved away from doing therapy. It is very rare to find someone who still does it. Yet in TV and the movies they show psychiatrists doing therapy, something that most psychiatrists are not even trained in. Your best bet for therapy is to find a trained counselor. You can find a listing for therapists in your area by going to the Psychology Today website.

    I have written a couple of articles on my blog on finding good psychiatrists:

    http://www.bipolarlessons.com/2013/01/03/yes-virginia-there-are-good-psychiatrists

    http://www.bipolarlessons.com/2013/05/04/how-to-choose-a-psychiatrist

    There are links in these articles about some of my frustrations with many psychiatrists documenting what I have learned that isn’t acceptable behavior to me. It is a learning process!

  6. Thanks for your perspective. I’ll check out those articles. -Amy

  7. My partner’s psych monitors his meds (and prescribes them) in conjunction with his GP. He also sent him to a psychologist. I attend all appointments with him to both. The psychologist is wonderful and I am so pleased that he has found her.

    • It’s huge when you find that magic combination of docs and meds. Glad things are going well! Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

  8. Yesss , you need to show up with your husband . I think its called ; Love .
    I could be wrong .

  9. I have had several disagreements with my husbands bipolar dr. She has now kicked me out of all of his visits. She keeps changing his meds and he is a totally different person and I don’t know what to do. Can she prevent me from attending his visits even though he has asked several times to have me back and she says no?

    • I’m not a medical doctor or a psychiatrist; however, I would check HYPPA laws. I would think if he says he wants you there, they cannot refuse, except in this case you might need to get it in writing and notarized. Check with NAMI for actual info. One thing to consider for both of you and your husband – is this the right psychiatrist for your family? Also consider how you are in the sessions – are you confrontive instead of hearing what she has to say and then weighing it carefully before saying anything? Do you wait and listen to what she has to say? Is there something else going on in the dynamic? What does your husband say about it? I sould also suggest you talk about it with your family doctor and get his/her viewpoint. Good luck. The road of mental illness is never easy.

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