Let’s learn from how we treat our cars

This is serious: don’t stop your appointments without discussing with your doctor or therapist. It’s for your own good – more so if medication has been part of your care.

I see this dynamic too often, and I get it, but it’s just heartbreaking. I’ll try to break down why it’s such a bad idea, and I’ll focus on people who because they’re doing great. (Stopping due to lack of improvement or loss of faith in healthcare is a different discussion.)

So the thing about this kind of suddenly stopping is it reveals a common misconception about how mental healthcare works:
The misconception: the idea that mental healthcare is only for getting better.

If that’s right, then once you get better, why bother seeing the doctor/therapist? You’re doing great! Except, it’s wrong: mental healthcare is not just for getting better; it’s also for staying better.

To show just why focusing on just the first bit is so unhelpful, let’s talk about cars. (Not that you’re a car, but you get the point.)

There are two reasons you take a car to the mechanic: for servicing to keep it running great and for repairs when it breaks down. And the point of servicing is to minimise repairs. Sure, you can ignore servicing and just repair as necessary, but you may be forgetting something: you don’t just spend more money on repairs you could have avoided with servicing: you also lose more time because the car will likely be in the shop for longer. God knows what else you’ll lose by being car-less. (Forgive the pun!)

Seriously, though, I’m sure you see how this applies to mental healthcare.

If you’ve stopped appointments because you’re doing great, chances are you’re thinking of your mental health as a limited project, instead of a lifelong process. You’re seeing it less as something to maintain, and more as something to deal with and move on.

Here’s the thing though: there’s no moving on from your own health.
You wouldn’t ever own a car and think you need to repair it just once. Same with your mental healthcare. And more so when you consider that what you might lose during the, say, two weeks of a relapse may well take you two years to regain: a relationship, a job, time in school, actual physical harm.

And before you think the problem is the mechanic (mental healthcare), it’s actually the particular kind of car (the mental illness) and the kind of roads (life experiences) it has to drive on. (Mental healthcare has its own issues but that’s also another discussion). You don’t have control over the roads: sure, you can avoid the bad ones, but even the seemingly good ones can go bad. And the car itself can simply break down.

What you do have control over is your attention to the car: your appointments. Please don’t throw that away.

If you’re doing great you might not need more than a couple appointments a year, total of maybe half an hour to an hour. Your doctor or therapist may even discharge you. But let it be a two-way discussion. Don’t just go off. It’s for your own good.

Think of your doctor or therapist as a partner in your mental health. It can be tough to find one you really feel like this with, I know that – but try to view things from that perspective. The final decision is yours, but that’s the more reason to take advantage of their expertise and get their input for your own good.

And if you’re not getting mental healthcare, but you know someone who is, please, please don’t be that person who encourages them to stop. Be the person who supports them and checks that they aren’t ignoring their care and appointments. It’s their decision, but a little nudge sometimes goes a long way.

Mental healthcare has never been perfect, and still isn’t, but carrying each other along makes a huge difference in making it work better for all of us.

Published by Doc Ayomide

I’m a medical doctor with specialty training in psychiatry, and I love thinking and writing about what it means to be human.

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