How can I work with my loved one’s mental health care providers?

There are many ways to support someone who is receiving treatment for a mental illness. One thing you can do is help them to communicate with their health care providers. In a way, you become a part of their treatment team. You can stay up to date on how their treatment is going. You can help them feel more comfortable opening up, and help them process all this new information.

How to get involved

There are a few different ways you can work with your loved one’s health care providers:

  • You can accompany your loved one to appointments. They may want you to be there when they speak with their doctor, or they may ask you to sit in the waiting room until they are done. If your loved one is comfortable with it, you can ask the doctor questions after the appointment.
  • You can ask your loved one to sign a release of information. This is a form provided by the provider’s office, authorizing the provider to share your loved one’s information with you directly.
  • You can take it a step further and ask to be designated as your loved one’s heath care agent. A health care agent is someone who is authorized to access a person’s medical information if they are unable to make their own health care decisions—for example, if they are having a psychotic episode.

All of these depend on your loved one being comfortable with you having this information. If they’re not, you may have to find other ways to stay involved. Don’t take it personally—there are lots of reasons why they might not want to share this information, even with someone they trust.

Either way, there are no restrictions on you giving information to the provider. If you see something that you think is important for the provider to know, you can contact their office and let them know.

Helpful ways to communicate with health care providers

Seeking treatment for a mental illness can be very overwhelming for your loved one. Doctors provide a lot of important technical information—especially if your loved one is being diagnosed with a mental illness for the first time, or trying out new medications. At the same time, mental illness is a very emotional topic, which can make it hard to remember or understand these details. You can help your loved one by providing emotional support. You can also be there as a second set of eyes and ears and help absorb the information.

Help your loved one make a list of questions they want to ask their provider, or topics they’d like to discuss. Write them down so that they don’t forget to ask during the appointment! Think about:

  • Symptoms they have been experiencing—mental or physical
  • Treatments they’ve tried in the past and how well they worked (or didn’t work)
  • Any side effects of medications or other treatments
  • Have they felt better or worse since their last appointment?
  • Any observations you’ve made, especially anything they may not have realized themselves

If you’re present during the appointment, or if you speak with the doctor afterward, take notes. Ask for printed information about any diagnoses or treatments. You can help your loved one look up more information on these topics later.

Let your loved one do as much of the talking as possible—you want to support them but also encourage independence.

You can maintain communication with the provider between appointments. If anything happens—for example, if your loved one experiences side-effects or gets worse—help them contact their doctor to let them know what’s happened. You can always call the office, but many doctors also have an email address or an online portal where you can send messages in real time.

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