How to Cope Whilst Waiting for Mental Health Treatment
Caitlin shares advice on how to support yourself whilst waiting for professional mental health treatment on the NHS.
Overcoming mental health issues or lessening their impact on our daily lives is (most of the time) a lengthy journey. Many of us seek professional help through the NHS, which can also often take a long time. It generally involves a referral period and additional waiting time for tailored services. In my case, I reached out for treatment for my mental health in August 2019 and finally (after several referrals to different places), I was offered cognitive behavioural therapy in January 2020. Of course, I was pleased to hear this news because at last, I could explore a psychological approach to improve my mental health. What I soon found out after, however, was that the waiting list was 10-12 months. Defeated, I felt like I was back at square one.
If you’ve been in a similar position, you will know what I mean when I say I felt hopeless, like giving up. But, I’m writing this piece to tell you not to give up. Although it feels like you may have to wait an eternity whilst suffering in silence, you have come this far and you are not alone. Here are some tips to help you through this tough waiting period:
1. First of all, give yourself credit for seeking support.
Finally taking the steps to seek help for a mental health problem can often feel daunting but it is a brave step in the right direction. Whether you’ve opened up to a friend or family member, made an appointment with your doctor, or engaged with a university service which offers support for personal issues, you should feel proud for doing so. It’s not always easy to tell someone how you’re feeling.
2. Identify your support system.
It’s important to know who the people in your support system are. Surround yourself with them and go to them when you need them. For me, my closest supporters are my lovely parents. For others, it may be a group of close friends, a partner, a university staff member, or in fact all of these people! Whoever you trust and feel comforted by, do seek them out.
3. Try to look for alternative support services.
As well as your close personal network, there are also other support services which can help you whilst waiting for professionally tailored support. Take a look at who your university’s mental health team are and what they do. It could be useful to note down their opening times or drop-in appointment hours so that if you felt up to it, you could go along (even with someone from your support system by your side). Your university’s website and student union will also have helpful tips and advice on mental wellbeing which can help to guide you. Even scheduling more frequent visits with your GP and offloading in a more professional setting may be beneficial.
4. Plan regular activities.
Whilst this may be more challenging for some than others, being proactive and engaging with societies, clubs, or volunteering can encourage a positive frame of mind and offer a productive and fun distraction from personal issues. It may not directly be treating your problems, but it can definitely help you to feel happier and more confident. I have recently started doing bits of volunteering and have found it to reduce my stress whilst boosting my energy! If that’s not for you, still aim to do things that you know you enjoy.
Waiting for treatment or a referral can be stressful (particularly when this wait is long), so don’t beat yourself up for feeling down or anxious, etc. That being said, you can (and should) still support yourself during this period, but – as mentioned – you don’t have to do this alone. I hope that if you are awaiting therapy like myself, reading this has given you some hope and also a drive to look after yourself and stay optimistic in the meantime.
You can find more about support at your university and further here.
Hi! I’m Caitlin and I’m a student at the University of York. I’m writing for Student Minds to show that people can be at different stages of their mental health journey, but that we are all capable and deserving of leading happy and fulfilling lives.