Updated: Jul 7
When you are challenged with having a mental illness, it is imperative that you are able to assert yourself and effectively communicate when it comes to talking to your doctor(s) about your treatment(s). I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where you felt you weren’t getting the proper treatment and you were too afraid to say anything because you didn’t want to upset them, or maybe you felt your doctor wasn’t listening to you, either way these are situations where asserting yourself is appropriate.
What Does Assertive Mean?
Being assertive means being able to stand up for your own rights in a calm and positive way without being either agressive, or passively accepting ‘wrong.’
The old folks used to say, “It’s not what you say, it's how you say it”, and it’s true. When you are confident, clear and controlled, people will be more prone to listen to what you have to say, but when you’re the opposite of confident, clear and controlled, people won’t take you seriously and when you struggle with mental health, one should not add to the stigma of acting ‘crazy.’
I do understand the frustration, anger and hopelessness that comes with having mental health struggles. When you’re anxious and depressed your ability to focus, concentrate and communicate clearly is affected. Add in you’re irritable due to lack of sleep, you feel isolated from everyone and that no one understands you. When you feel this way, you may lash out because of all the pent up emotions you have. But when it comes to talking to you doctor, you need to assert yourself in a confident, clear and controlled manner so that you can be respected and taken seriously.
Assertiveness is a Learned Skill
As with any skill, being assertive takes time to learn. Here are a few suggestions according to Better Health website:
Decide that you want to be assertive rather than aggressive or passive. Commitment to change is a big step in the learning process.
Think about a recent conflict where your needs, wants or feelings were not respected. Imagine how you could have handled it in a more assertive way.
Tell the other person honestly how you feel, without making accusations or trying to make them feel guilty.
Use assertive language such as ‘I feel…’ and ‘I think…’, which takes responsibility for and explains exactly how you are feeling, rather than aggressive language such as ‘You always…’ and ‘You…’, which blames the other and escalates conflict.
If the exchange doesn’t go well, learn from the experience and plan how you will do things differently next time.
As this is a new skill, keep practising so that it becomes second nature.
Assertiveness vs. Aggressive Behavior
Being aggressive means you are ready to attack or confront someone. Here’s why it’s not a good idea to speak to your doctor (or anyone) when you feel like you might come off as confrontational:
You may come off like an inconsiderate bully
You don’t respect other people and their feelings or opinions
You can come off arrogant
You may humiliate or intimidate people and can be seen as a threat
Assertiveness vs. Passive Behavior
To be passive means accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance. If this is your type of personality, you most likely want to avoid conflict, but when it comes to your mental health, you need to be able to stand up and advocate for yourself. The message you are sending people is that your thoughts, feelings and opinions don’t matter. You’re teaching people that your needs and wants aren’t important.
Assertiveness vs. Passive Aggressive Behavior
To be passive aggressive means you exhibit a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials. What message does this type of behavior say? You would rather show your negative emotions than confront the issue because you may be uncomfortable in being direct about what you want. Being passive aggressive ruins relationships and diminishes any respect people may have for you which can make it hard for you to get your needs and wants met.
Take a moment to be honest with yourself - which one describes your personality? These behaviors are not acceptable, and can make things worse for you when it comes to effectively communicating with your doctor. I would suggest that if you decide you are NOT at a point in your journey that you can communicate like this, you take someone with you who can speak for you or help you keep focussed and calm.
Assertive Communication with Your Doctor
As with any relationship, you need to make sure you and your doctor have a mutual respect for each other, that you trust them and you feel comfortable confiding in them. In turn, your doctor should listen to you, inform you about your treatments and have your best interest at heart.
Now we know what NOT to do, let’s talk about how to be assertive when it comes to communicating with your doctor according to ucsfhealth.org:
Be organized - doctors are busy keeping appointments, so come prepared with a list of questions you prepared beforehand. If you can, email your doctor before your appointment.
Keep Good Records - along with questions, keep an accurate record of your symptoms, medications and any other pertinent information. The more detailed you are, the better.
Set the Tone - let your doctor know how much you want to have a say so in your treatment and you want detailed or general information regarding your treatment(s).
Be Assertive - don’t be afraid to ask questions, and express your concerns if you feel they weren’t addressed.
Know How to Keep in Touch - before you leave your appointment, make sure you know the best way to keep in touch between visits whether is be through a nurse, email or by leaving a message.
Don’t let your anxiety or depression get the best of you and talk you out of being assertive. Remember, it can help you more than it can harm you. If you need help with communicating assertively with your doctor, click HERE for the free worksheet that will help you organize and list your thoughts, concerns and questions.
I come across a lot of information that I think would benefit you while on your healing journey. Here are 3 that will help you communicate assertively with your doctor:
Questions to ask your therapist - https://www.washingtonian.com/2016/03/03/the-14-questions-you-must-ask-a-therapist-before-your-first-appointment/
Patient rights and responsibilites - https://www.upmc.com/patients-visitors/patient-info/rights-and-responsibilities
3 C’s of Effective Communication - https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/high-octane-women/201304/the-3-cs-effective-communication
My 2 Cents
Don’t let the stigma that surrounds those who struggle with anxiety and depression keep you from assertively communicating with your doctor (or people). You have a right to be heard and respected!
Don’t let YOUR anxiety and depression from asserting yourself. You need to learn that you are worthy of respect from others
Love and respect yourself. Your thoughts, opinions and feelings matter!
Being assertive should be part of your 2020 mental health goals, click HERE to read the post, #GoalDigger, about setting mental health goals and click HERE to get the free worksheet that will help you set and organize your goals
Remember Brown Girl! You got this and you are not alone!
Did you know that I now have a podcast? It's called, For My BrownGirls! Podcast and you can listen to it HERE!
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*I am not a licensed therapist. This post does not serve as a form of therapy or diagnosis. If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 or your doctor.