How to Figure Out if You Should Talk to Your Doctor About Mental Health Meds

Mental health often becomes a bottom-level priority when the stresses of college life and the worries of adulthood strike. When studying for finals, sleepless nights and coffee-based diets become the norm, and attempting to adult means that budgeting for groceries takes precedence over stress-reducing exercises and evaluating how you’re doing.

Because mental health might not manifest itself in a physical way, we sometimes ignore it. You’ll find yourself worrying about your friends’ well-being and helping them while you let your own feelings and stresses build up. It’s time to focus on bettering your mental health and determining whether you should manage it on your own or if medication is the right next step.

Talking about mental health can be really hard for a lot of people. There’s still a stigma about expressing mental health diagnoses or struggles, although there are more organizations now that focus on changing this. It’s completely valid if you feel like you need help with your mental health or are curious about it, and you should do all that you can to focus on allowing yourself to get treatment. This treatment may include getting medication from a doctor or at least meeting with one to understand where you are at with your mental health. That can seem like a daunting thing to accomplish, especially with so many other things keeping us busy, and seeming like they are more important (they usually aren't in the long run). Here are some tips to help you if you feel like you want to focus on your mental health, possibly with medication.

Learn about mental health resources on campus

Many schools have excellent resources for mental health that include on-campus therapy sessions, education on different types of mental illnesses, and tips to help you better your mental well-being when you’re in a stressful college environment. A lot of these services are included with tuition, so it’s truly a great resource to use if you really just want to know more about stress management and steps to take if you want to further pursue medical help.

Some schools have peer advisors if you want to talk to a peer about your mental health. 

These places usually offer referrals for doctors or therapists who can provide further assistance, and this can sometimes be covered by mandatory health insurance from the school. Check out your college’s resources for mental health-whether it be a building on campus, or someone you can meet with to get started.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, a psychology professor, and the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Narcissistic Relationship  who also believes in the importance of using campus resources. A student mental health center is a great place to start, as they will make the appropriate referrals to a psychiatrist for medication as needed,” Dr. Durvasula says.  

Dr. Durvasula continues, “Start there, and work on self-care (such as exercise, sleep, time with friends) - the only way to appropriately get medication is through a licensed medical practitioner - typically a psychiatrist.”

If you’re not sure whether or not your school has this type of center, check out your student portal. You might even be able to make appointments online.

Even if you feel as though everything is going great for you or that your mental health has improved or even stayed consistent, it’s still beneficial to speak to someone every once and a while to work through your feelings.

Related: Practicing Yoga Is A Gift To Myself & My Mental Health

Write it down

With the prevalence of cell phones and social media, it’s hard to make time to sit down and write things out in a notebook. Writing down your emotions and struggles can help you to acknowledge how you are doing and, if you write daily, you can look at how your feelings have changed (or haven’t) over time. When you take the time to write, you’re allocating part of your day just for yourself, which we frequently fail to do.

To organize your thoughts in a way that can help you see your how your mental health changes over time, think about using bullet points for things that are relevant to your life. 

Bullet points can help you de-stress and feel organized. Use a “Classes” bullet to discuss how the classroom environment is, and a separate homework assignment to mention how you are handling the stresses of studying. Make sure to note your relationships as well, since we sometimes ignore early signs of possibly toxic relationships. Note how your friendships are doing, whom you feel close to, and things that happen that are good or bad. The ways that we are treated and how we treat others plays a huge role in our mental wellness. If you make it a point to write and read over what you wrote in the past, you might notice patterns or consistencies that may make you realize that it's time to speak to a doctor about getting medication or changing your medication. 

Dr. Durvasala says that noting changes in your relationships or your day-to-day life is imperative, even if you do not want to write it down.

“Pay attention to whether you are falling behind in school, work, not attending to friendships or family relationships, notice changes in daily rhythms such as loss of concentration, changes in sleep, appetite,” Dr. Durvasala says.

“At that point - contact your student health center or student psychological services center ASAP and get an appointment,” Dr. Durvasala adds.  

It’s important to also write down your mental health feelings daily. If you continually feel anxious, depressed or lost but you’re paying attention to how the contents of your day are going well, then you are giving yourself proof that you might want to seek help from a doctor. If you do seek a doctor’s help, bring the notebook in so you have concrete examples of times when you experienced signs that you might need medication.

Evaluate your relationships and how they might be helping or hurting you

The way others treat us can often affect the way that we look at ourselves—whether we like it or not. Toxic relationships are draining and can steal focus away from doing the best we can in school or working out.

Toxic relationships are by no means limited to romantic ones—our friendships can evolve over time into ones that are not good for our mental health. Dr. Durvasala notes that many of these types of negative relationships are with people who are narcissistic and who are ultimately going to negatively impact your mental health. These people, she says, often ignore your thoughts and feelings, and constantly question your reality. She also claims that the best thing to do to get rid of the toxicity. 

“Ideally distance yourself from the person—if you are able to eliminate the relationship (break up, decrease contact) then that will be the healthiest way to go," Dr. Durvasala says. "If you are forced to have ongoing proximity to that person - set very clear boundaries with them.  Also—manage your expectations—do not expect them to change (they won't), don't be surprised when they act badly." 

"To recover—make sure you engage in self-care, do not allow yourself to become their psychological punching bag, change how you think about the relationship, seek out mental health services to talk about it in an objective setting, and most importantly—cultivate other relationships that are healthy, empathic, respectful and mutual,” Dr. Durvasala says. 

If you’re unsure of how to distance yourself from someone (friendship breakups and breakups, in general, are so hard) then seek guidance from a professional who can help you process your feelings and also give you advice. If you find that you still feel like your mental health is suffering, even after this person is absent from your life, medication might be the right next step for you.

Do your research

Finding the right doctor for you is difficult no matter what their specialty is—everyone needs a good fit. You want to have a strong sense of trust in someone who is treating arguably the most important part of your body: your brain.

A simple internet search for mental health professionals in your area will certainly yield many results, but make sure to be smart about which ones you take seriously.

  • Create a list and determine what doctor attributes are important to you. Things like distance to you, background and referrals are important to consider.
  • Organize a few potential doctors you are interested in meeting with. Try to contact them to see if you can do a consultation.
  • Finding the right doctor for you is difficult no matter what their specialty is. You want to have a strong sense of trust in someone who is treating arguably the most important part of your body: your brain.
  • Once you book an appointment, make the most of the appointment and ask questions.

If the doctor you meet with wants to put you on a medication for your mental health, don't feel bashful about asking questions about what exactly the medicine will do, and what potential side effects it has. That way, you have an idea of what to expect.

Keep up with your journaling after you get these medications because it's a great way to keep track of how you are feeling both physically and mentally. If you have a follow-up with the doctor after starting the medication, you'll be able to look back and remember how you felt when you first started. If something is different from before, you might notice it quicker if you've been keeping track. 

It's essential to know what you’re putting into your body and to keep track of how it makes your body feel. For any medication, especially mental health medications, it can take several weeks before you see any discernable results, which is why it's important to keep taking the medication until you follow-up with your doctor—unless you start to experience concerning or life-threatening side effects. While certain mental health medications might be a perfect match for your friend or roommate, it might take your doctor a few different tries to find the perfect medication match for you.

Take care of yourself, and you’re not alone

Once you understand that you might need medication to help improve your mental health, it can be really daunting to accept it. If you’ve never spoken to your friends or family about it before, you might even feel lost, or like you don’t know where to begin. Sometimes it can be difficult to accept your mental health diagnosis, especially if you don't start to experience any symptoms until your college years. If you develop signs of a medical health condition after high school, you might not think these signs and symptoms worth paying attention to. They are. 

Surrounding yourself with people who build you up and listen to you is essential. If you talk to family members, friends, or a mental health support group, you'll get different perspectives and pieces of advice that might be beneficial to you figuring out what your next steps are. Perhaps one of them has also been through something similar and might have recommendations for doctors or advice on how to seek out the right care. 

“It is not something to be ashamed of—it is an ILLNESS—no more than you would be ashamed of having the flu or a broken leg.  That there is help—and therapy works. There are ways to help diminish our risk such as healthy diet, exercise, sleep, stress management - this doesn't mean it WON'T happen, but these are self-care issue that can help mitigate stress.” Dr. Durvasala says.

Dr. Durvasala continues, “Getting help early is essential and college students are often at an advantage because on campuses there are often various ways to get mental health services.  We should treat our mental health with the same priority we do our physical health and put it all under the banner of ‘health'.”

It’s easy for us to know when we need to tend to our physical health, and we know what doctors to go to or what medications to take when we have certain ailments. Your mental health should be taken with the same amount of care and seriousness.

Before you seek medication from a doctor for a potential mental illness, make sure to listen to your heart and understand what is best for you. There's nothing shameful about wanting to feel better mentally or physically. Be sure to be well-informed when you are considering getting on a new medication and you should feel comfortable and trust your doctor.

Shannon is a junior studying English, Journalism, Creative Writing, and American Studies at Boston College. A Long Island native, she loves the beach, Italian ices, bagels, and pizza (all of which are the best in New York.) When she's not reading, she can be found watching reality TV- most likely The Real Housewives of Any City.

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