Lindner Center of HOPE: Safe Spaces - What to Expect When You Seek Mental Health Services

Lindner Center of HOPE: Safe Spaces - What to Expect When You Seek Mental Health Services

Fear of the unknown is probably the number one reason people shy away from trying new things. Seeking mental health services is no different.

“Not knowing what it may be like to meet with a therapist or psychiatrist can cause a lot of anxiety,” says Dr. Laurie Little, Chief Patient Experience Officer at Lindner Center of HOPE. “That can lead people to avoid treatment for the first time.”

Additionally, there is a stigma surrounding mental health. That seems to be improving among the younger generation, however, because they are more comfortable addressing mental illness and mental health openly.

Another reason people may be reluctant to pursue mental health treatment is that they feel they should be able to fix their problems on their own, whether by “praying it away” or simply “sucking it up” or “gutting it out.”

“Some people feel that taking medication would be seen as a flaw, as if they weren’t strong enough or courageous enough to deal with their issues,” says Dr. Margot Brandi, staff psychiatrist and Medical Director for Sibcy House, one of the Lindner Center’s residential programs. “Or they may view medicine as a crutch, not a tool that can correct some neurobiological imbalance.”

The other concern is fear of side effects or the worry that taking medication will leave them feeling like zombies. Some people think medication may numb them, cause weight gain, or lead to sexual side effects. The reality is that while some side effects may occur, they are manageable, and many go away after some time.

Lauren Neiser, MSN, a board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at the Lindner Center of HOPE, primarily sees children. She says parents frequently express concerns about medicating their children for fear it may affect their brain function. Others assume that once they start a medication, they’ll be on it for life. But that’s not the case.

“Especially with kids, sometimes it’s an adjustment disorder,” says Neiser. “Something traumatic has happened in life, and once they get through that trauma and utilize the skills they’ve learned in therapy, they can manage their anxiety or the mood symptoms they were experiencing.”

Patients who feel lousy after taking one drug may be less inclined to try another prescription, but that fear is also unfounded, Neiser notes.

“Just because one medication didn’t work for you doesn’t mean another one won’t,” she says. “Or just because they are in the same class [of drugs] doesn’t mean you’ll suffer the same side effects.”

Additionally, some medications — particularly Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), commonly used to treat depression — must build up in your system before they begin to work.

Finally, the cost of mental health treatment can be a deterrent, particularly at the start of a calendar year when annual insurance deductibles reset, and people have to pay more out of pocket for doctor visits.

“The cost of health care, in general, is a concern, and often mental health is not prioritized,” says Little. “When people have to make decisions based on finances, they’ll often make their mental health treatment a lower priority than their physical health.”

One bit of good news is that primary care doctors, cardiologists and emergency medical doctors are referring patients for psychotherapy or psychiatry management more now than in years past.

“The pandemic helped with that tremendously,” says Dr. Brandi. “COVID made it evident that mental health is a real illness and warrants specialty practitioners to treat it.”

Seeking mental health therapy is sometimes compared to going to the gym. Some people go because their physician wants them to lose weight or lower their blood pressure. Others go because they long to become better versions of themselves. Still, others go to socialize. Similarly, there are multiple reasons to seek therapy.

“Therapy is a safe space where people can talk about whatever concerns them in their present situation,” says Little. “A therapist is an unbiased person who gives their full attention by listening, being empathetic and providing a new perspective that might help the patient think, feel or act differently.”

Little suggests thinking of a therapist as a mental health coach who provides guidance, support, and a new perspective to help you feel better about your life.

“We don’t typically feel nervous about seeing a dietician for advice on how to eat healthy or a personal trainer for our physical health,” Little says. “But when it comes to our mental health, somehow that’s in a separate category.”

There is no judgment in the therapy space, which makes it safe.

“If you speak to a teacher, parent or friend, you’ll get their opinion, and with that comes judgment,” says Dr. Brandi. “That doesn’t happen in therapy.”

It’s not unusual for someone to give up on therapy quickly if they don’t gel with a therapist right from the start. Given that you ultimately want a provider with whom you can be vulnerable, it’s understandable to be concerned.

“In therapy, you’re usually sharing things that can be uncomfortable, perhaps traumatic,” says Neiser. “Feeling safe with someone you can’t open up to is difficult. You won’t get a lot out of therapy if you’re not able to be completely honest.”

Some therapists offer a free 15-minute “get acquainted” session to help patients decide if they are compatible. While that’s not a bad idea, you may need more than 15 minutes with a therapist to determine if the two of you mesh.

“Keep in mind that when diving deep into difficult experiences, it’s tough to sit in pain and discomfort. It may not be the therapist but the therapy making you feel a certain way,” says Dr. Brandi. She recommends meeting with a psychologist or psychiatrist at least twice before moving on. Switching therapists, however, is certainly an option.

“As clinicians, we understand that sometimes people don’t click,” says Neiser. “You want to find someone you can build a rapport with.”

There may also be times when a person needs to pause therapy, which is fine.

“It’s okay if you decide you’re not ready for treatment at this moment,” says Dr. Brandi. “Maybe you’re not ready to invest the time or finances necessary to do therapy properly, and that’s okay! Come back when you’re ready.”

Would you like to connect with a mental health expert and begin your journey to better mental health? Visit Lindner Center of HOPE is located at 4075 Old Western Row Road, Cincinnati, OH 45040.

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