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5 mental health lessons I've learned

I've known about my anxiety since I was 15, but I didn't really prioritize improving my mental health until two and a half years ago. Living on my own for the first time in a new city and embarking on a new phase of my long-distance relationship brought with it enough challenges that finally prompted me to seek the help of a mental health professional - and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I am more self-aware, resilient, capable of identifying triggers and solutions, and comfortable with talking about my feelings. But that doesn't mean I don't struggle.

Getting a grip on your mental health is a long journey full of ups and downs. To support others in building greater awareness around mental health issues, here are a few things I've learned along the way:

1. Finding a good therapist requires perseverance. In some places it may be as simple as doing a Google search in your area, but I had a lot of trouble finding practitioners that were (1) close enough to where I lived, (2) taking on new clients, and (3) with availability that matched my schedule. Be prepared to do lots of research and be patient. I went down many, many avenues and a long period of discouragement before I eventually found someone.

A few steps I recommend to hopefully make things easier for others starting to explore this route: Ask for referrals from other trusted specialists you see (I ended up asking my gynecologist) and/or from friends who already have therapists (that can refer you to someone else in their practice). You can try using the ZocDoc app to get matched only with professionals in your health care network if you want to take advantage of insurance benefits. I've also recently heard about as a resource for getting matched with a licensed counselor that you can meet with online.

2. Therapy is expensive, but worth it. Whether your therapist is in- or out-of-network, you can submit a claim to your insurance company once your provider bills you and usually get a portion of your payment back or added towards your deductible. But your out-of-pocket costs are still no joke. I find it helpful to think about what you're willing to spend on most other variable expenses, and try to budget for this accordingly. Your health should come first. If you need to cut back on eating out or splurging on a vacation to finance therapy appointments for a while, do it. Bustle offers good advice on free or low-cost alternatives you can consider.

3. Medication can help, but isn't a quick fix. It's also not for everyone. This was something I wasn't comfortable exploring myself until this year. Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about your options. In my experience, finding the right drug and dosage involves a lot of trial and error. While everyone reacts differently, there are usually at least some side effects you could experience. You'll have to determine if those are worth the benefits you'll hopefully notice if the drug is doing what it's intended to.

4. Everything is temporary. This is true of all things, but all the more apparent when applied to mental health. Even when you are doing everything right, you will have bad days. t's important to remember that they will pass, and to appreciate the good ones when they come even more. Your emotional wellbeing will forever exist on a spectrum and rough patches shouldn't be considered setbacks. I loved this reminder from the World Mental Health Day Twitter account for anyone stuck in a rainy season: "It takes both sun and rain to grow a flower."

5. If you don't speak up, you'll feel isolated. Even the people closest to you will not quite understand what you're going through if they don't suffer from the same condition. These conversations can be so hard, but both sides of any relationship need to embrace patience and a willingness to share both feelings and boundaries. Open communication is key. Mental health truly isn't talked about enough, and as a society we need to feel empowered to change that.

If you or someone you know does need help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.


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