Our doctors are incredibly busy. They usually have a long list of patients to see each day with limited time to see them. There are also orders to put in, emails and phone calls to return, and don’t forget lunch. Doctors have to eat, too.
It’s not that we are just a name or a number on a list, more that we may not always get to discuss everything we want or need in one visit.
Some visits are typical- we’re sick and need to be seen. After finding out the issue, we’re advised on what to do next, which often involves medication. Other visits are check-ups or check-ins involving ongoing conditions.
I see my primary care doctor (PCP) every three to six months for a check on thyroid medication. We discuss how I feel and labs are done to ensure the medication is at a correct level because if not, I can become very sick. This is due to a partial thyroidectomy two years ago. I’ll have to do this for the rest of my life.
There is a time in which we need to see our doctors for more serious issues- like mental health. Many mental health providers require a referral from a doctor, so it’s recommended that you start there. This can be a difficult move to make but is necessary to move forward with your mental health care.
Prepping For The Talk
Most of us are nervous before we go to the doctor, no matter how comfortable we may be with them. It may be helpful to make a list of what’s going on or even keep a diary of your symptoms in the days leading up to the doctor’s appointment.
If you need extra support, bring someone with you. The other person can step in and finish telling the doctor what you need or possibly step in if the doctor is less than helpful.
How Do You Have The Conversation?
The best way to approach this is to be prepared. Hopefully, there is a level of trust and comfort between you and your doctor. This will go a long way in having any kind of deep discussion with him/her, but even more with this one.
If this is not how you feel, you may want to take someone with you or consider changing doctors before trying to have this discussion.
Tips for discussing mental health issues with your doctor:
- Be clear. Explain what symptoms you are having, how long and what you need from them. If you need to tell them other details, this is the time. Let them know how your symptoms are affecting your daily life.
- Give a history if you can. If mental health issues run in your family, especially what you may be dealing with, your doctor needs to know this.
- If asked, discuss medication allergies, side effects and other issues. Medications for anxiety and depression, for example, can have undesirable side effects like weight gain, insomnia, and sexual issues. Please discuss this. Also discuss what to do if the medication isn’t effective.
- Read your doctor’s reaction. If you feel their reaction is not empathetic, helpful or otherwise negative, do not hesitate to end the conversation. Your mental health is important and worth their time. If they are treating you less than they should be, it’s time to go.
- Don’t forget any referrals or other paperwork you may need. Many offices charge for paperwork, so check with your doctor’s office.
- If you didn’t have a mental health provider chosen before, ask. The office most likely has resources that you can use to get the help you are seeking.
Many doctors are helpful in these discussions and will steer you in the right direction. They’re more aware of mental health issues and the importance of treating them along with physical health. Most will cheer you on in the process- mine asks how my sobriety is going each time she sees me.
This is good. It can give many people hope that need it.
Some, however, aren’t as forward thinking and may not be the doctor for you. This would be the time to find a new doctor.
Talking to your doctor about your mental health can be scary, but it may be the beginning of a road to a happier and healthier life.