Posted on Leave a comment

Work-life balance or integration?

a woman holding a cellphone and typing on a laptop

What does work-life balance mean?

Work-life balance is the idea that you can divide your time and energy equally between work and important aspects of their life. Essentially, you divide between the demands of the workplace and spending quality time with family members, maintaining a social life, focusing on your personal growth, caring for your health, engaging in self-care practices, participate within your community, and other activities that are important pieces of your personal life. Fundamentally, work and your personal life exist separately, where one ends, the other begins.

The idea of work-life balance was developed to help employees and employers achieve a more balanced lifestyle. In response to the excessive feelings of stress and burnout, we developed an idea of balance and boundaries. However, stress and burnout comes with managing both work and personal demands as separate entities. Thus, the problem with work-life balance is the notion of “balance”. The word balance suggests a weighing balance scale that is balanced (or equal) on both sides. This concept, although ideal in theory, is nearly impossible to reach. The term suggests there would be little conflict between your work and personal life. However, at different points in your life, throughout various stressors / deadlines, one may require more time and energy than the other. They may also interlope from time to time. Yet the notion of “balance” implies that when you spend more time and energy on one area, you are taking from the other.

Thus, in recent years, work-life balance has progressed into a more realistic notion known as work-life integration.

Work-life integration suggests that work and your personal life co-exist and thrive together. Rather than specific boundaries of a traditional “9-5,” integration allows for your personal and professional life to intermingle. For example, you may make time during the workday to pick up your children from school and you may take time after dinner to respond to emails.

Work-life integration allows for you to participate in higher productivity and efficiency levels at work without sacrificing your personal life, mental, emotional, or physical health. It also can be beneficial in prioritizing important things outside of work, like family time, health, and self-care without feeling guilty. Furthermore, integration eliminates the stress of “having it all” in a sense of balance when instead they co-exist and thrive together.

Basically, work-life integration is about feeling content. When your life moves from a focus on producing content to being content, with all aspects of your life, you can not only boost your work productivity, but also grow in different areas of your personal life.

Is work-life integration important?

In my opinion, work-life integration is an essential part of your overall wellness. When you treat work and life as separate entities, there is an added level of stress and pressure. You are constantly trying to enforce boundaries where lines are often blurred. There may be personal emergencies during the workday, and there may be work emergencies during your personal time. Trying to enforce strict boundaries can lead to feelings of guilt and anger and increased stress levels when lines are crossed.

Self-care is an important piece of overall happiness and productivity. Without recharging, you will exhaust yourself to a point of fatigue and burnout. Burnout is linked to a reduction in productivity, lack of motivation, and symptoms of depression. However, trying to achieve “work-life balance” makes it difficult to set aside time for self-care without feeling guilty.

Integrating work and life to co-exist in harmony that allows ample time for both without feelings of continual guilt can positively impact your mental health.

Is work-life balance integration really possible?

As stated earlier, work-life integration is about finding a state of content within all aspects of your life. Work-life integration is about believing that dedicating time to work or life does not take away from the other. For each person, work-life integration may look different, based on their personal life and work demands.

For some, work-life integration may look like starting the workday after dropping off one’s children and leaving during the “workday” to pick up one’s kids from school but answering emails and working on proposals after the kids go to bed. Or work-life integration may look like taking an extended lunch break to workout, see a healthcare professional, or engage in a form of self-care. It is different for everyone, because it is based on your specific needs and work / life demands. Finding the proper integration may be easier for some than others and may take a while to properly develop. The important part is finding a combination that allows for growth in all areas without sacrificing your emotional, mental, and / or physical health.

Posted on Leave a comment

Mental health and higher education system.

photography of people graduating

Is college for me?

The question every high school student dreads. Our higher education system is designed to help us gain the necessary tools and lessons needed to be successful within our chosen career paths. College courses teach you how to learn while simultaneously preparing you for work in your field.

Today, college is highly publicized as a necessary step. Most jobs require a bachelor’s degree, while many require a masters or doctorate level.

Research has shown that 50% of students feel their mental health is poor or below average. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death between ages 10-35 and has risen significantly among the 10-24 age group since 1950.

The fact is: Our student population is struggling. According to Healthy Minds Network, 39% of college students in the US are diagnosed with depression. And, according to Imagine America Foundation, 1/3 of students who are diagnosed with depression drop out of college. And, according to a 2018 study by DOI, out of 67,000 surveyed students, 9% had attempted suicide.

Yet, our higher education facilities have only made minimal accommodations available to students.

Currently, in our Higher Education System, we offer “reasonable” accommodations to students living with mental illness who have qualified for disability. Although this seems like a great solution, it creates a wide gap that sets our students up for hardship. Many mental illnesses are often not diagnosed under the age of 18, such as borderline personality disorder (bpd). Furthermore, symptoms of anxiety and depression often begin to form during adolescence, but many children do not receive treatment or support, because symptoms are written off as typical adolescent behavior.

Therefore, because it is difficult to receive a diagnosis from a licensed mental health professional prior to adulthood (18+), many college students do not have a confirmed diagnosis that will allow them to apply for disability. We have seen most colleges add a Wellness or Counseling Center to their campuses. The counseling services are free and available to all students. However, they forget to mention that it may take over a month to get an appointment. Furthermore, they only offer a limited number of sessions, which discriminates against students needing long-term care.

Outside of the limited counseling services, the ADA has required both public and private universities to provide equal access to education for students with disabilities, as long as the accommodations do not fundamentally change the nature of the activity, service, or program. For a mental health to be considered a disability, documentation is required. This would not be a problem if majority of people were not undiagnosed. We do not live in a society of self-awareness with mental health nor where seeking professional psychiatric services is normalized. The stigma and financial barriers making it near impossible for many college students to obtain treatment.

Why are these counseling services insufficient?

Although many college campuses offer counseling services, they do not offer enough. Think about the amount of money invested into a piece of paper. Think about the number of lives lost every year to suicide. One study reported that 1 in 5 students have had thoughts of suicide with 9% making an attempt and nearly 20% reporting self-injury. Yet, funding sufficient counseling services is “too expensive” or “unnecessary.”

Imagine if you are experiencing debilitating anxiety attacks, depressive episodes, or manic episodes, but you have no official diagnosis. You are a financially struggling college student. Your family either does not believe in mental health so they will not help you pay for services, or your family cannot afford to help you pay for services. You also do not have a car and no bus routes drop off near an off-campus counseling office. Therefore, you cannot go off-campus for support. Thus, you call your campus Counseling Center. They have a 6 week wait for an appointment, meanwhile you have midterms next week. Without an official diagnosis and documentation, you cannot qualify for disability. Or you get in before exams, but your diagnosis is not considered “debilitating enough” for accommodation. Therefore, you have no accommodations. The day of your exam, you are experiencing the debilitating anxiety attack, depressive episode, or manic episode. You cannot stand up or pull yourself together to get to class. You genuinely feel helpless, and you desperately want support. But the system that you were told is meant to “set you up for success” is now working against you. You manage to make it to your exam and hide your symptoms long enough. Because your mind was overwhelmed by your mental health condition / symptoms, you were unable to concentrate. You exhausted countless hours trying to study, but you were unmotivated, unfocused, and restless. As a result, you failed your course. However, you were not taking only 1 course, you were taking 4, and all exams lined up in the same week. Exams count for 40-50% of your grade, meaning if you fail one, you likely fail the class. Your GPA drops, you lose financial aid, and can no longer afford to be a student. You either failed out or dropped out.

Does this seem dramatic? Yes? This is the reality for millions of college students.

In comparison to physical illness.

Students experiencing a physical illness are significantly more likely to receive an excused absence and assignment extension. Why? Because it is easier to obtain a doctors note. Have you ever heard of a doctor, let alone a college infirmary, telling a sick patient they have to wait 6 weeks for an appointment? No. When someone is sick, they get into see the doctor right away. Mental health is not treated with the same respect and importance. If the student could not obtain a doctor’s note due to high volume of patients and extended wait times, the professor is often likely to believe the student. However, if the student explained they were experiencing high anxiety or depression, the professor is apt to assume it is an excuse.

Our higher education system does not treat mental illness in the same regard as physical illness. Thus, students who are struggling are often forced to struggle in silence.

Other mental illnesses at play.

When we talk about mental health, we often focus on depression and anxiety. Let us discuss other mental health conditions that may not benefit from the current limited accommodations.

A student living with an eating disorder, specifically anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, is likely to be consuming insufficient levels of nutrients and calories. Therefore, their energy levels are reduced, and it is more difficult to concentrate. These students are not always able to keep up with the high demand of coursework. Research shows that 40% of incoming freshman at colleges / universities are likely to be living with an eating disorder. With 4-6 weeks wait to receive an appointment at the Counseling Center and lack of education / awareness on eating disorders, many students do not receive help. However, their grades are affected. With 40% of the population affected, you would assume colleges would have a system that helps individuals living with eating disorders. Yet not all universities offer ample free nutritionist services nor support in overcoming the eating disorder. Essentially, you are being punished for a mental illness that was not your choice.

Now, let us talk about a student living with ADHD. Under the ADA rules, only some people living with ADHD qualify for disability. Research shows that 5% of college students live with ADHD. Yet, without qualifying for disability, no accommodations are made. Many college courses are not designed to accommodate students with ADHD to begin with. A high percentage of courses require students to sit in silence and take notes for 2–3-hour periods at a time. Then, offer only long, 2-hour exams as grades. There is no accommodation built into the course structure that offers stimulation, positive feedback, or energy release. Again, based on design, you are being punished for a mental illness that was not your choice.

Let’s take it a step further. When a student has an allergy attack, they can easily go to the doctor and get a doctor’s note. However, a student facing a panic attack does not have that same luxury. It is not as easy to get an appointment with a mental health professional that same day to receive a doctor’s note in order to excuse an absence from class. What about students experiencing a manic episode or psychosis? They may not even know they are in an episode at that point, let alone be able to get a doctor’s note to excuse them from class.

Not only is there a lack of accommodation built into course structure, but also a lack of accessibility to receive a doctor’s note for an excused absence. Both of these make it extremely difficult for students living with mental illness to succeed in our higher education system.

Mental illness is not a choice.

Currently, our higher education system treats mental illness like it is a choice. The current system works against those living with mental illness, even though research proves suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among college students. The system provides minimal accommodations that offer little support and create a wider gap between students living with and without mental health symptoms / conditions. Imagine reaching out for support and being told, “We can only help you up to three times a year, but the first appointment available is in 6 weeks.”

Again, with physical illness, this is NOT an issue. We provide immediate support and resources to help the student get better and receive any accommodations needed.

Colleges, state education departments, and federal education department, why is my success at college not as important as someone without a mental illness? You have no problem collecting my tuition payments and loan repayments. If I were on a premiere sports team, there would be accommodations made for my success. Yet, you are not willing to make ample accommodations to help me succeed because mental illness is not your priority.

Posted on Leave a comment

Is there really a mind-body connection?

woman relaxing in yoga mat

Even though we consider our emotional and physical health as two separate entities, they are actually connected.

The mind-body connection works both ways.

It is a scientific fact that our chemistry and biology impact our mood and emotions. Similarly, our mood and emotions impact our chemistry and biology. What does that mean? Here is an example: when we encounter a headache or stomachache while facing high stress, we are experiencing the mind-body connection. Another example: when we face physical illness or injury, we often become more susceptible to mental health symptoms, like anxiety and depression.

The mind-body connection can impact your overall health and wellness.

The mind-body connection implies that physical changes occur in your body due to your mental state. Optimal emotional health is often achieved when we discover health ways to cope with life’s stressors (and symptoms of mental health conditions, including medication). Life has many stressors, including, loss of a relationship (divorce, friendship, etc.), loss of a loved one, laid off from work, moving, illness or injury, and various other life-changing events. Some life-changing events can be positive, such as having a baby. Others can be very difficult to experience, such as losing a loved one. Without proper coping mechanisms, these life stressors can negatively impact your mental and physical health.

When we feel our best, we tend to have more self-awareness. With that increase in self-awareness, we are more likely to listen to our bodies. In turn, this allows us to offer our bodies what they need, whether it is food, water, or rest. When we feel stressed, on the other hand, we release hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which cause some physical symptoms. These physical symptoms consist of increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and elevated blood pressure. Thus, chronic stress can result in conditions like a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stomach ulcers.

You can elevate your mental and physical health. (Here are a few examples)

  • Nourish your body and mind with enough vitamins and minerals.
  • Nourish your body and mind by consuming enough food. Balanced meals can be a great way to refuel.
  • Engage in regular exercise. Exercise is known to release endorphins, which elevate your mood.
  • Breathe. Breathwork and other forms of deep breathing exercises can help to calm your nervous system.
  • Meditate. Meditation is known to reduce stress while enhancing self-awareness.

Final Thoughts

Our health is at the center of everything. Our body reacts to our emotional health, just like our emotional state responds to our physical health. Therefore, instead of treating our emotional and physical health as two separate entities, it is imperative that we look at them together.

Often times, we ignore our mental health when we are experiencing a decline in our physical health. Likewise, we often disregard our physical health while experiencing a drop in our mental health. However, when we work on improving both simultaneously, we are working toward an overall optimal health.

Posted on Leave a comment

Is there a connection between nutrition and mental health?

assorted sliced fruits in white ceramic bowl

The connection between our diet and mental health has been long debated. Mental health conditions are complex. It can be hard to find a direct link between one cause and one illness. However, we do know there is a mind body connection. Also, we do know that nutrition affects our physical health. Therefore, it would be plausible to conclude that nutrition affects our mental health.

Science and research have found links between mental health and high sodium, sugary foods, excessive high saturated fats. Why do highly processed foods often lead to a depressed mood? Simple, the heavier the food makes us feel, the lower our energy levels tend to be. Why else? Highly processed foods often do not have enough of the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that we need. Furthermore, even with our FDA regulations, plenty of foods that we consume on a routine basis include traces of microplastic (think seafood, plastic packaging), chemicals (think pesticides, bpa, and preservatives), and added hormones / antibiotics (think meat). As we know, our physical and mental health are connected. When one declines, the other one often declines as well. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to what we put on, around, and into our bodies.

When we consume highly processed foods, we put things into our bodies that are not easily broken down and are often harmful. For example, processed foods have been linked to an increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. In general, most physical illnesses often cause emotional stress, mental fatigue / exhaustion, and decreased energy levels. All of these factors can affect our mental health. As you can see, there is a link between what we put into our body and how it affects both our physical and mental health.

My Experience:

A few months ago, I was experiencing severe mental exhaustion. It was hard for me to get out of bed, and I spent most of my time struggling to keep my eyes open. In fact, there were multiple days in a row that I did not get up at all. I had severe migraines every day with low energy levels. And, I skipped the gym for 2 weeks (I normally go 1-2 times a day), and I was feeling very down. I felt irritated easily. And, I felt sick constantly. My depressive symptoms seemed to have worsened as well.

I went to the doctor. The doctor ordered 3 blood tests. The first test checked my vitamin, cholesterol, and thyroid levels (a routine test). Next, the second test checked my hormone levels. And, the third test was a MRT blood panel.

The first two blood tests resulted in deficiencies that required me to take daily supplements. The deficiencies were connected to mood instability, decreased energy levels, and muscle pains. My doctor explained that vitamin deficiencies on top of hormonal deficiencies can amplify symptoms. Therefore, my doctor(s) gave me a list of 10 supplements and medications that I needed to take. The doctor explained which supplements I should take in the morning and which in the evening. Of course, I did my own research as well. Then, I found vegan, organic, non-gmo, trusted sources for my supplements.

Next, the MRT blood panel told me which foods my body was sensitive too. It also gave me a LEAP diet plan to help reintroduce foods into my body and see how I react. I learned that almost everything I consumed on a daily basis was not good for my specific body. This included “healthy” foods, like chicken, apples, strawberries, and more. I also learned which medications were not good for my body.

After adjusting my lifestyle to incorporate foods and supplements that were good for my body, I started to see a difference. I noticed my energy levels were increasing. And, I did not need nearly as much caffeine to get through the day. I was able to focus for extended periods of time again. I was not feeling as depressed and irritated on a daily basis. My body did not ache as much. And I did not feel sick every day.

Final Thoughts:

Everyone’s body is different. Therefore, our lifestyle should be tailored to our specific bodies. Some foods may affect your body differently than others. The important piece is educating yourself with the tools and resources available to learn more about how what you put into your body affects your body. Paying attention to labels on food, drinks, and supplements you purchase is also a key part of nutritional eating. Remember, what you consume is what fuels your mind. So, let me ask you, how do you want to fuel your mind?

Posted on Leave a comment

What does it mean to prioritize your mental health?

smiling woman wearing a sun hat and reading a book

Do you believe in the mind body connection?

We prioritize our physical health. As children, we often receive annual wellness check-ups and see a doctor whenever we start to feel sick. We are taught the importance of exercise, good hygiene, and a balanced diet. When we break a bone, we go to the doctor. We do not say “think positive, walk it off, or get over it”.

Our mental health is not treated with the same value as our physical health. Mental health is rarely prioritized. Self-care and self-love are often labeled as selfish. Yet, your mind is a key player in your overall health. A healthy mindset improves many physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, low immune system, chest pain, and more! Still, we lack an emphasis on cultivating our own mental health.

Why should we prioritize our mental health?

When you prioritize your mental health, you engage in self-care that stimulates inner peace, inner happiness, and self-love. You continuously practice and develop new coping mechanisms. And, you learn how to forgive yourself. More than that, you show yourself compassion and understanding. You provide your mind and body with space and time to relax, to heal, and to grow.

Just like with our physical health, taking care of our mental health is important. We are focused on being the “perfect support” for everyone around us. As a result, we push ourselves and our mental health to the back burner. The paradox is that in order to be the support our loved ones need and deserve, in order to be the best version of ourselves, we have to put time and energy into cultivating our mental health. Therefore, it is important to value your mind as much as you value your body. Furthermore, it is important to spend as much time and energy caring for your mind as you do your body.

Your mental health affects how you feel, think, and act. Unlike when you feel sick or when you break a bone, it is not always as easy to recognize the warning signs within your mind. Often times, our mental health has declined a significant amount before we have recognized it. Furthermore, our mental health can dramatically affect our relationship with our loved ones and with ourselves. Therefore, we have to prioritize cultivating our mental health every day.

A few of the many ways you can prioritize your mental health.

Make time for yourself. This can be as simple as spending 30 minutes reading a book or journaling in the morning. This could also be taking a quick walk or meditating during the day. Spend some time alone with yourself and learn to love the moments of silence.

Do things that bring you joy. The week can feel very long and stressful. There is a lot going on in your world and the world around you. You do not have to sit in all the trauma and fear all of the time. Try to dedicate at least 1 hour a week doing 1 thing that you really enjoy, something that brings you joy, and makes you happy to be alive.

Check in with yourself. How are you really? What are you feeling right now? What kind of headspace are you in? How can you allow your mind some space and time to rejuvenate? What can you do for your mental exhaustion? Which coping mechanisms would be helpful right now? Be honest with yourself. Lying to yourself will only hurt you in the long run.

Listen to your body. Is your body starting to feel tired? Are you constantly running on empty? Honor your body. Acknowledge the stress put on it. When your body needs rest, allow yourself to rest. Taking a nap is not “being lazy,” it is preventing a burnout that takes an extended period of time away from work, school, and / or your day to day.

Listen to your mind. What are you telling yourself? Are you putting yourself down? Are you upsetting yourself? Why are you telling yourself negative things? Listen to what you are telling yourself, become aware of it, and counter it with positives. Treat yourself with the same love and kindness you would a friend.

Pay attention to your feelings. What are you feeling? Where is that feeling stemming from? Pay attention to how these feelings are affecting your mind and body. How are you reacting? What coping mechanisms can you use to validate yourself while simultaneously comforting yourself? Remember, it is okay to not be okay. But, also remember that there are coping mechanisms and resources available to help you through the hard times.

Fining a safe place where you feel content. This can be an actual physical space or an image within your mind. When the world feels overwhelming, when our symptoms are too much to handle, connecting to your happy place can provide a sense of calming. Maybe this place will comfort you, motivate you, inspire you, or help you escape for a few moments.

I will leave you with this thought: Prioritizing your mental health validates you as a human being. If you do not validate and prioritize yourself, who will?

“If I wait for someone else to validate my existence, it will mean that I am shortchanging myself.”

Zanele Muholi

Posted on Leave a comment

How do you advocate for your mental health?

white and black number print

When it comes to your mental health, be tenacious. Advocate for yourself. Find support systems and treatment options that work for YOU.

One thing I have come to realize, through my own journey and hearing the stories of others, is a lack of assertion. When it comes to our mental health, we often take a long time to reach out for support. At first, we tend to ignore our symptoms. Then, we question if they are real or in our heads. Next, we compare ourselves to others. Then, we deny any potential conditions. And, finally, after the symptoms and/or condition have overwhelmed us, we reach out for support.

Why do we wait so long to receive treatment that we deserve? Think about it. When your arm starts hurting, especially after a trauma, do you wait years to get an x-ray? When your vision starts to worsen, do you wait years to get glasses? When you have a cavity, do you wait years to get a filling? When you have a headache, do you wait years to take medication? When you live with a heart condition, do you wait years to go to the cardiologist? Yet, when you live with a mental health condition or you are facing poor mental health symptoms, why do you take years to see a doctor?

Then, once we see a professional, we often assume they know everything. Mental health is a tricky field because it is an invisible illness. The doctors, therapists, and / or counselors do not see a picture of your brain that clearly shows a proper diagnosis that results in a specific treatment plan. Because the professionals are not experiencing the symptoms first-hand and cannot see what is going on inside your mind, mental health diagnoses can become a guessing game.

One of the most common misconceptions I have experienced within the mental health community is this idea that your first diagnosis or your first prescription medication or your first therapist is going to be the right one. What many people do not know is that it can take an average of up to 10 years to receive the right diagnosis. Many people do not know that the average person tries more than one medication before finding the right one for their mind and body. Many people, also, do not know that it can take an average of up to 5 therapists to find the right match.

So, if it can be extremely difficult to receive the right diagnosis and treatment plan, what should I do?

Get curious about your mental health diagnosis and treatment plan; and ASK ANY AND ALL QUESTIONS THAT YOU HAVE.

Be tenacious. Research your symptoms and educate yourself on various mental health conditions that relate to your symptoms. Reach out to others who are experiencing similar symptoms and find out what they have tried. Then, create a list of questions to ask the mental health care professional.

Do not be afraid to be “annoying” by asking too many questions. It is your mental health; you can ask as many questions as you would like to. If you do not understand a diagnosis or a symptom, ask the doctor to explain it to you. Ask questions about the medication being prescribed and what side effects to look out for. Ask about alternate treatment options and next steps. Ask what you can do in addition to taking the prescribed medication and / or attending therapy.

Furthermore, do not be afraid to ask what external or internal factors can be affecting your mental health. Have you checked your vitamin and hormone levels recently? Are you exposed to hazardous / toxic chemicals? Do you live in an area of high pollution? Does your home have mold? Advocating for yourself is not only sharing your symptoms, but also asking questions that help you and the doctor get a full picture.

Mental health care professionals are humans, just like us, they may make mistakes or overlook certain symptoms. They do not physically or mentally experience what you are experiencing; therefore, it is difficult for them to know everything about what is going on. By researching and asking questions, you can learn more about what they are thinking and collaborate on the best treatment plan.

Understand that the first medication you try may not be the right one.

Everyone’s body is different. Therefore, everyone’s body reacts differently to medications. If prescribed medication, be sure to understand that the first medication may not be the right one for you. And understand that it does not always mean that no medication will work for you. It simply means, this time around, the medication prescribed was not the right fit.

It is also important to remember that just because the medication prescribed to you works for someone else with the same mental health condition, it does not mean that it will definitely work for you. As noted previously, everyone’s body reacts differently.

However, when you start to experience side effects, especially severe side effects that make you uncomfortable, tell your doctor right away. You do not have to wait it out, because the doctor prescribed it. Call your doctor and share your concerns. It may be a normal reaction as the body adjusts or it may be a sign that the wrong medication was prescribed. Advocating for yourself by consulting your doctor will help you explore your options.

Lastly, look at therapy like you look at dating. You may not find your match the first time around, but the perfect match is out there.

Every therapist is different. From energy to method of practice to personal experience to specialty, every therapist brings a different approach and perspective to the table. It may take time to find a therapist that matches your specific needs.

When you are searching for a therapist, do not be afraid to ask questions. What do you specialize in? What approach do you use (ex. holistic, biofeedback, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy)? What is your availability? Ask however many questions you would like, within the appropriate boundaries. You are going to therapy for you. You are the consumer; you are allowed to be selective in your approach.  

When you finally choose a therapist, if you do not feel like the connection is right, look for a new therapist. You do not have to stick with the same one, even if you have been going to them for years. It is okay to change therapists, just like it is okay to change phones.

I, in my searches, use the 3-appointment rule. I go to the same therapist 3 times before deciding if they are the right fit for me. At the first appointment, I am usually nervous, and the therapist knows nothing about me. It tends to feel a little awkward. Plus, the appointment tends to be more of a focus on history rather than my current situation. During the second appointment, I tend to be more relaxed, and the therapist has a general understanding of my background, therefore, we dive a little deeper into my history and current situation. Then, by the third appointment, I have a good idea of the approach the therapist uses and if it feels right for me. This 3-appointment rule has worked out well for me; however, it may not work for everyone. An important part of advocating for yourself is exploring what you are looking for in support and understanding how long it takes you to get a good feel for those part of your support system.

All in all, remember to always speak up. Ask questions. Do not let people patronize you or invalidate you. You deserve to be heard and educated on what you are experiencing. The mental health care system can feel complicated, but you deserve the right support that works for you. Never stop advocating for yourself and your mental health.