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Bringing it up: 13 tips for talking with your physician about depression

Sep. 9, 2015 Depression Toolkit

Talking with a doctor about what’s bothering you is the most direct route to determining what’s wrong and taking action to remedy the problem. But for many people, the prospect of discussing a mental health problem with a doctor is almost as scary as the problem itself. This article contains 13 tips to help you prepare for the conversation, and for what comes next.

Tip #1:  Recognize that, although you may feel uncomfortable, you are sharing a legitimate medical concern in order to get the help you need. 
Too often, patients are afraid of bringing up their mental health concerns.  Sadly, despite great progress in the field, mental illness is still a subject branded by shame, misunderstanding and stigma. If you associate your symptoms with weakness or character flaws, it’s no wonder you hesitate to discuss them. That’s why the very first conversation you need to have is with yourself.  Depression is a serious illness, with specific medical strategies for managing it. Read more about countering stigma, including your own, here.

Tip #2:  Choose which physician to confide in.  
For many patients, a primary care physician (PCP) provides regular care and coordinates the care delivered by specialists. PCPs may be general practitioners, family practitioners or internists.  By whatever name, the PCP is in a good position to both assess your needs and work with you to develop a treatment plan.  However, some patients may be in more regular contact and have a more familiar relationship with a specialist such as an obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN), cardiologist or endocrinologist.  These doctors are also qualified to hear and respond to your concerns.  In some instances a patient may decide to schedule an appointment directly with a mental health specialist such as a psychiatrist.  Regardless of which doctor you choose to discuss your concerns with, the sooner you reach out and start the conversation, the better.

Tip #3:  Set goals for the conversation.  
Before the discussion, think about the outcome you’re seeking.  Remember that diagnosing and treating depression takes time and expertise, so if your goal is to make your symptoms disappear immediately, you’re likely to be disappointed.  Instead, set a few reasonable goals for the conversation, such as a) putting your concerns on the table and b) working with your doctor to determine a plan to address those concerns.

Tip #4:  Do a little homework.    
Just by visiting this site, you’ve taken a big step toward preparing yourself for what lies ahead.  Here, you can read about the most common symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and substance abuse, and about the established treatment approaches for each.  You can sample some of the diagnostic tools healthcare providers use to diagnose these conditions.  And you’ll even find a worksheet that, along with this article, can help you to organize your thoughts and anticipate questions that might arise during your conversation.

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