Here's How To Bring Up Mental Health Issues With Your Doctor, According To Experts
Talking about your mental health with your doctor can, unfortunately, be excruciatingly awkward. As someone who's been there and who also, in the past, avoided the topic like the plague for ages, I completely understand any discomfort you might feel. But trust me — once you get the ball rolling and open up the conversation, talking about your mental health issues gets easier and easier each time you go in for a visit. I'm guessing that, despite my reassurance, you're probably still pretty nervous about bringing up mental health issues with your doctor without feeling like you need to disintegrate into the examining room table and/or swiftly bolt out of the doctor's office at a moment's notice. That's OK — like I said, it takes practice.
According to Dr. Edo Paz, clinical director at Heartbeat Health and medical adviser for the free primary health care app K Health, when it comes to talking about your mental health with your doctor, there's nothing to be embarrassed about. "Your mental health is part of your overall health: Talking to your doctor about anxiety, depression, or irritability is just like talking about blood pressure or allergies — it’s part of your health," Dr. Paz tells Elite Daily over email.
Once you talk to your doctor, says Paz, they’ll be able to help you identify what seems to be causing you to struggle with your mental health, and they'll also give you a treatment recommendation, which may include medications or a referral to a therapist or psychiatrist.
Additionally, if talking IRL about your issues makes you uncomfortable, there are alternatives out there for you, like mental health/therapy apps, some of which you can use to chat directly with a therapist, as well as mental health helplines you can call or text at any time. For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's helpline can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
If you do decide to talk to your doctor in person, though, it can feel pretty nerve-wracking at first, and those feelings are totally valid. Here are four ways to bring up your concerns so that the conversation feels as comfortable as possible for you.
Keep Track Of How You're Feeling Beforehand
It's best to go into this conversation with your doctor feeling as prepared as possible, so that you can talk about exactly what's on your mind and how to address it. Dr. Paz recommends paying attention to your mental health symptoms over time, and keeping a log of issues that come up, whether that includes recurring negative thoughts you've been having, bad dreams, changes in your diet that you suspect may be linked to your mental health, etc.
"You can use an app like K Health to log symptoms and see how people like you were treated," Paz tells Elite Daily. "Or you can keep notes in a journal or on your phone."
Know That Your Mental State And Physical Symptoms Are Often Connected
"Your doctor should be asking about factors like stress and anxiety if there’s a potential connection to other symptoms — if they don’t and you think it matters, bring it up," Dr. Paz suggests. For instance, he adds, stress is a well-known, but poorly understood risk factor for cardiac disease.
Other stress-related physical symptoms can include back and neck aches, tension headaches, stomach aches, a significant loss of or increase in appetite, a significant decrease or increase in how long you sleep, and/or feelings of fatigue, says Dr. Madeline William, Psy.D., a psychologist who treats patients via the telehealth app, LiveHealth Online. "Explaining that you feel that these problems are symptoms of distress or emotional turmoil can be a helpful connection to make for any medical professional," Dr. William tells Elite Daily.
Stick With A Doctor Who's Knowledgable About Mental Health Issues
It never hurts to do some research about your doctor's training and education regarding mental health; in fact, it could be a game-changer when it comes to your treatment, according to Dr. William.
"Don't be afraid to ask about [your doctor's] views on the connection between physical and mental health," she explains. This will help you get the best care possible for your mind and body, she says.
Approach The Conversation With Purpose And Honesty
"In the same way that you trust your doctor to examine your body and to share intimate knowledge about your physical history, you should meet with a professional with whom you feel trusting of your emotional and mental health history," Dr. William tells Elite Daily. "Don't be afraid to be open and honest."
In other words, just as you might make a mental note to ask your doctor to examine or check up on a certain part of your body, Dr. William says it's equally important to go into your appointment with intention and purpose regarding any mental health concerns you have.
Long story short: Have a plan, and stick to it. And again, those details about your symptoms thus far, whether you physically write them down or keep them in the Notes app on your phone, can be extremely helpful here.