Talking to your doctor about your mental health concerns can be difficult, but it is necessary! The following blog is here to help you open up the conversation about your mental health with your primary care physician which can ultimately help you open a new dialog about mental health with your social network as well.
Stigma & Mental Health
Stigma. What is “stigma”? According to Miriam Webster, Stigma is defined as “a mark of shame or discredit.” How do forms of help for mental health become so stigmatized? There is no real answer to this but that of social influence, perceptions, and expectations. Your social culture impacts everything you do and everything that goes on around you. Have you ever just stopped and really listened to your peers’ judgements and perceptions? A lot of times individuals take on the same viewpoint as that of their peers and become influenced by those around them which hinders them from seeking out the help they really need. Why is that we do that? Maybe it’s your cognitive distortions (irrational thinking patterns) that are influencing your decisions. Several thoughts could be going through your head: What if my friends/family reject me? I shouldn’t be feeling like this. I am a failure. I am defective. No one can help me. I am too far gone. I don’t deserve help. What will the people at work think? Many of these thoughts are cognitive distortions and will ultimately keep you in the cycle you are currently in rather than lead you to the help you may know you need. The following blog is here to help you open up the conversation about your mental health with your primary care physician which can ultimately help you open a new dialog about mental health with your social network as well.
Talking With Your Doctor About Mental Health Concerns
Talking with your doctor about personal things rather than usual check-up information can be anxiety provoking and awkward. Take it from someone who has had many odd, uncomfortable talks with their doctor about health concerns. Recognize that your doctor is not only there to address physical concerns, but that doctors are to take a wholesome approach and discuss the unseen problems as well. However, if you go in saying “Everything is good and fine,” you will not find many physicians who will question you on your word. It is also important to understand that you cannot expect your doctor to recognize signs of distress, discomfort, or other symptoms based on a 10-20 check-up. Let me say that again: you cannot expect your doctor to recognize signs of distress, discomfort, or other symptoms based on a 10-20 check-up.
Doctors do their best by giving out those often dreaded one page questionnaires, but if you know how to answer them – your concerns will continue to go unnoticed. It is best to be as honest as possible when given a questionnaire because those screeners prompt doctors to ask further questions when they are in the exam room with you. I say all of that to say this – those one page questionnaires can be a great place to start opening a conversation with your doctor because it involves no talking on your part but provides the doctor an opportunity to ask questions about concerns you may be afraid to bring up.
Now you may be thinking, “What if my doctor doesn’t give me a questionnaire?” That is a great question, because this is when talking about your mental health concerns with your doctor will require a little more effort on your part. Here are a list of steps to take when you want to discuss your mental health with your primary care physician – whether they give you a questionnaire or not:
- Schedule An Appointment
- Answer The Following Questions Before Your Appointment… It will likely be most helpful if you wrote out your answers or typed them out on your phone to help you stay on track and provide your doctor with the most detailed information possible:
- What Symptoms Have You Noticed? What Is Happening? What Are You Feeling?
- When Did The Symptoms Begin? How Long Have You Felt This Way?
- Have These Symptoms Gotten Better, Stayed The Same, Or Gotten Worse?
- How Have These Symptoms Been Affecting Your Life?
- Who Else Has Noticed These Symptoms?
- When Do These Symptoms Happen (Ex: at home, work, social settings, etc.)?
- Are The Symptoms Directed At Any Particular Person Or Thing?
- Have There Been Changes Within Your Life Or Routine (Ex: changing jobs, moving, death, sickness, etc.) Within The Last 6 Months?
- Show Up To Your Appointment
- Present Your Case To Your Doctor – Your doctor is there to help you, and they have the resources to get you the help you need!
- Listen To What Your Doctor Has To Say – The doctor might complete an initial assessment, suggest medications, recommend further testing, etc.
- Ask Questions – You have options! If you do not like the care plan suggested by your doctor, get a second opinion. You are in charge of your healthcare!
I know this task may seem daunting, and at times, depending on the situation, it can be. If you go in prepared and have the information needed in front of you, you will have better success than going into an appointment unprepared. Going to the doctor can be intimidating, but it does not have to be. Doctors are people too, and they have similar experiences to many of their patients. Doctors are held to the highest standard, but that does not make them the most knowledgeable on all topics. While your doctor may not have all the answers to help you, they have a network of individuals to connect with to get you the help you need.
Help Is Available
Regardless of what has kept you from seeking help in the past, you can change the narrative today starting by making an appointment with your doctor, discussing your symptoms and feelings with friends, or just taking note of yourself and where you currently stand. All of those actions can get the conversation started and help reduce the stigma associated with mental health! Please contact Garrett Counseling if we can help you with any mental health concerns.
This article was written by Jessica Mentzer, a mental health professional at Garrett Counseling in Huntsville, AL. Learn more about Jessica here.
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