Growing up, I had food allergies and was a worrier—but in general, I was strong and healthy. That changed in college, when, after a horrible case of mono, I developed mysterious physical health issues. During that time, my “worries” started manifesting in ways I didn’t understand: sleep deprivation, panic and swirling thoughts, and a general disassociation with my body, which I felt had betrayed me. Although I repeatedly described my mental-emotional symptoms, none of my doctors referred me to a psychotherapist. When I finally saw a clinical social worker, everything changed—my therapist was on my side. Working with her, I learned a lot about being an advocate for your own mental health during a time of poor physical health:
1. Your mental disorder is no less valid because it develops while you are suffering from physical problems—nor because it intensifies due to a physical problem. Stress will take a toll on your body, your brain, your coping mechanisms. It’s all connected.
2. If you are struggling and feel you need help, do seek out help from physical providers, but do not let them treat your mental health issue(s) as “situational” and likely to resolve “once the physical issues are gone.” Sometimes physical illnesses take a long time to go away. Sometimes they don’t go away. People who suffer from chronic illnesses often develop depression, so please: don’t let a doctor treat your mental health as a secondary issue. Especially because—
3. Getting help for your mental health is crucial to the success of your physical health treatment. If mental problems keep you from staying on top of your appointments and medications, you won’t be making any physical health progress. Both sides of your health need treatment, and both affect your stress level, which can affect your physical health stability or recovery.
Working with a clinical social worker, I was empowered to take charge of my physical health. Though it can be scary, I know I’m in the right when I insist on mental health as part of my treatment, which I have to do often. My therapist validated my feelings, and helped me learn to advocate for my mental health needs in the medical world.