108: How to Get Help for Mental Illness // Sarah McKenna

Are you wondering how to get help with mental illness

After my daughter Sally was born, I stopped sleeping. Not just in the typical newborns-wake-up-a-lot-in-the-night kind of way. My body literally could not sleep. 

My insomnia got so bad that I truly feared going to bed at night because I knew I would lay there with my thoughts racing, feeling the darkness pressing down on me, feeling completely alone and like the sun would never rise. 

During the day, I had a hard time looking at my baby because I would be flooded by how much she depended on me, and I couldn’t bear to think about that. 

I couldn’t take care of myself, much less a tiny, helpless baby. I remember driving to an appointment with a lactation consultant and looking at Sally asleep in her carrier and just bursting into tears, sobbing to my husband, “I can’t take care of her! I’m losing my mind. What if I lose my mind and I’m not able to take care of our kids?”

I’ve always had a melancholy and worry-prone personality, and I’d struggled through periods of depression and anxiety throughout my life,but it had been manageable when I only had myself to take care of. I never sought medical help because I convinced myself that it wasn’t “that bad” and I could do it on my own. 

That all changed after I had Sally. 


I was in a truly dark place, and one day as I lay down to try to take a nap while she did, I had a full blown, world-closing-in, I-think-I-might-die-right-here panic attack. I was pacing the room, sweating, trying to get breath, and trying to understand what was happening to me. 


After it was over, I texted Ryan, who was actually just in the front room when all of this was happening, and he came and crawled into bed with me as I sobbed in terror and exhaustion.

The next thing I did was call my OBGYN. Though I had resisted medical help and medication to manage my mental health in the past, I knew I needed a new level of support if I was going to be well and take care of this new little baby and my spirited three-year-old toddler. 

I’d gone to therapy in the past and would continue to go to therapy, but it was time for me to try some additional interventions as well.

I attribute my quick decision to get help to my older sister, Sarah who has taught me how to get help with mental illness. Through her words and her example after fighting mental illness for over a decade, she has shown me that it is not a weakness to get help, it is a strength.

I will be forever grateful that I had her support during that extremely difficult time in my life.

This interview is Part 2 of a series that Sarah & I are doing about motherhood and mental health. Last week, we talked about strategies you can use in your own self-care in day-to-day life if you are struggling with depression and anxiety.

Let’s dive in! 


3 Takeaways on How to Get Help with Mental Illness: 


1. Don’t be afraid to try medication.

Medicine can be a very intimidating step to take. I cried the first time I thought I might need it. However, if you are consistently struggling with your mental health, not feeling like yourself, or especially if you struggle with dark, intrusive thoughts, such as suicidal ideation, please reach out to either your OB-GYN or your family practitioner. They can help you find a medication (or a cocktail of medications) that can help you feel like yourself again.  

I have struggled over the years because I’ve wanted to get off my medication, but Sarah always reminds me of the glasses metaphor. She tells me, “If you needed glasses, you wouldn’t think twice about wearing glasses for the rest of your life. Why is medication any different?” I love that metaphor! It helps me breathe a sigh of relief and accept that I need medication in order to function my best. And that’s ok.


2. Therapy is your friend!

I am a huge advocate of therapy! If you have followed me for any length of time, I’m sure you already know that. Therapy has literally changed my life. I shout from the rooftops how highly I recommend therapy for everyone

However, it can be really overwhelming to figure out how to find a therapist. There are so many therapists out there, and so many different therapy modalities. And if you’re in the middle of deep mental illness struggles, it can seem impossible to muster the energy to sort through all of the information. 

Sarah suggests starting by listening to this episode from three therapists: Thoughts on thoughts Podcast, Episode 14: Finding a Therapist and Different Types of Therapy. Once you know what type of therapist you want to try, you can better narrow the field. 

If you’re feeling too overwhelmed, or you’re in too dark of a place, to do this for yourself. Please ask for help from a loved one or a friend. They can do the digging for you! They can set up an appointment for you! Seek the help. It is worth it! 


3. Find a creative outlet.

This doesn’t mean you need to become a painter. Creativity can look so many different ways. Writing, music, dancing, sports, service opportunities, cooking … it’s creating something that didn’t exist before. Creative outlets can help you express emotions when words don’t cut it. They also help you see that you add value to the world. 

Often when we’re in the murk of mental illness, creativity is the last thing we want to do. But if we can rally ourselves to dip into anything creative, it helps put a spark of life back into us. It. Is. So. Helpful. 


I wish we sitting in a room together so you could chime in and share your experiences and advice on how to get help for mental illness. If you’re in the depths of mental illness, I wish could give you a hug. 


My hope for you is that you feel supported and loved, you reach out for help if you need it, and you reach out to help if you’re in a position to do that. We are all in this together.

Don’t forget to listen to Part 1 of our conversation: Surviving Depression in Motherhood.


**Please pass this episode along to anyone you know who may be suffering.**


Save this summary of how to get help for mental illness in motherhood to Pinterest so you can use it later! 👇


3 in 30 Podcast with Rachel Nielson, Featuring Sarah McKenna on How to Get Help with Mental Health
Infographic depicting How to Get Help with Mental Health


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