How to Talk to Your Doctor about Depression
If you are here, you might be thinking you have depression or maybe you know you have depression and you don’t know how to bring it up to your doctor. Maybe you’ve talked to your family and you have decided it is time to talk to your doctor, but you don’t really know where to start. I’ll tell you about my experience and give you a few tips on how to talk to your doctor about depression.
When I first learned/decided/was told by friends and family that I may be depressed, I was scared. I am just naturally terrified of going to the doctor (extreme social anxiety) and I don’t like to break down crying in front of people, especially those I don’t know, so the thought of talking to a “stranger” about my depression was pretty darn scary. Once I sucked it up and talked to a doctor, I was relieved that I did it because I had all the symptoms of major depression and my diagnosis meant that I really needed to be on medication and in therapy. It was the best decision I ever made and you’ll see that lots of your feelings begin to make sense once you receive your diagnosis and start treatment. This is not something that you want to delay, but believe me, I get it. It’s hard to admit you need help, especially hard to admit you need mental health help.
Here are my tips for talking to your doctor about depression:
1. Making the appointment is the first step – I’ve written about how to make the first appointment with a therapist or doctor, but let me reiterate that making this appointment is never really easy unless you just love doctors. Follow my tips from that post and consider going to your family doctor first for a referral. Hopefully, you have a family doctor who you’ve been to several times and who knows you well. In fact, that doctor may already suspect you have depression and they are just waiting to hear it from you.
2. Know that you have a medical condition – Depression is not just in your head and it’s certainly not a sign of weakness on your part. Depression is a medical and mental health condition and should be treated, either through medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. You are not just dreaming this up and your doctor will not chastise you for talking about your symptoms.
3. Be prepared to talk about your symptoms – Know the symptoms that brought you to the conclusion that you might have depression. Consider writing them down or keeping a journal of your emotions from the time you decide you need to talk to a doctor until you actually see the doctor, at the very least. You may be tempted to research depression and learn what symptoms are “common”, but stay true to yourself and just report what you are going through. Maybe you’re a “textbook” depressed person, but maybe you’re not.
4. Tell the doctor what you’re going through – Again, you may need to write this down. Tell the doctor your day to day feelings and routine. If you have trouble lifting your head off the pillow in the morning, tell the doctor this. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, tell the doctor. One of my symptoms when I know my depression needs to be managed is extreme anger. I grit my teeth more and I mumble under my breath. I feel like hitting walls and I yell a lot. Anger is not always associated with depression, but I have learned through therapy that it is a clear sign of a depressed person. Be sure you get to say everything that you want to say in your appointment. Don’t feel rushed or like you are taking up too much of the doctor’s time if you need to list several symptoms and experiences. That’s what your doctor is getting paid for, to listen to you!
5. Have clear and reasonable expectations – You are not going to walk out of your doctor’s office “cured” and the doctor may not have the exact answer to all of your problems. He may give you some medication samples or a prescription to try, but know that not very many people get the right treatment on the first try. You may end up back in his office in a couple of weeks listing off more symptoms or talking about the same ones again in order to try a new medication. We’re going to talk about medication changes in my next post coming up next week. Whatever you do, don’t give up on your doctor unless he is just not a good fit for you.
6. Follow-up as recommended – You aren’t going to be able to visit the doctor once and be cured. If the doctor wants to see you back in two weeks, be sure you follow-up with him. If he asks you to call if you experience side effects from the medication, be sure to do that. Don’t just stop the medication and try to move on with your life. You may end up trying several medications and/or combining medication with therapy, but be an advocate for yourself and be in charge of your follow-up. Don’t give up after one try, just keep on trying until you and your doctor(s) get it right.
Taking charge of your mental health and depression is tough. You may feel like giving up and just trying to live your life with depression, but there is no reason to suffer like this any longer. Take the steps you need to take to get better and feel better about yourself. If you have any other medical diagnosis, you wouldn’t wait. Depression is a medical diagnosis and a medical issue. Take charge and talk to your doctor about depression as soon as possible.