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Medical Self Advocacy

Loren Booda

Meet Loren

At age 19, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. My father was a Navy officer and, at that time, I was on my parents' insurance plan. Because of my circumstances, I have remained on that same insurance plan, and, since age 25, I've been fortunate enough to have the same psychiatrist.

Growing up, I saw what good professional care looked like because my parents were big advocates in my health care. They encouraged me to take my medications and realized how important my health was -- both mentally and physically. They didn't look at my illness first -- they looked at my wellness. My parents aren't around anymore, so that means I have to be responsible where my physical health is concerned, including performing regular tasks such as making doctor's and dentist's appointments.

Make sure you talk honestly about any medical problems you have. I'm more trusting of my psychiatrist because I've known him for 26 years, but it's important I'm honest with my internist (doctor of internal medicine), too. You need to establish trust to get the most out of your health care. Think of your health care providers as allies or even trusted friends. And I respect their position that they have other patients that need their time just as much as I do -- that's important.

It's also important that they respect you as a patient and not as a go-between. One issue I've seen between my two main health care providers (psychiatrist and internist) involves my yearly blood test; my doctor doesn't automatically send it to my psychiatrist, so that adds responsibility on my part to ensure that he does.

I can reach my psychiatrist anytime of night or day. Not everybody has that option, but they can call a nurse or an on-call doctor from their primary care physician's office or even the emergency room at a local hospital. Health care professionals are there to help. If you have insurance, ask the insurance company for a list of doctors and what your plan does or does not cover, this way you'll know what your insurance will pay for.

If you don't have insurance, you can contact your nearby teaching hospital, although sometimes that can take a month to get an appointment. If you're in crisis, go to the emergency room, but don't give up-you can find health care. If you can't pay, look for your community mental health center or even NAMI support groups. Make sure you put supports in place now so you have somewhere to turn in crisis. Always stay on your medication, and contact the health care professional who prescribed it if you are having any serious side effects.

Loren Booda
Living with Schizoaffective Disorder
NAMI Helpline

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