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How to Talk to Your Doctor About Your Mental Health

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No one should have to suffer in silence, especially when the battle they are fighting is against a challenge that only they can feel. The term mental health covers a broad spectrum of emotional and mental ailments and conditions that affect millions of people worldwide of all ages, abilities, backgrounds, and financial statuses. One in five adolescents globally live with a mental disorder, and almost half of U.S. adults will experience a mental illness during their lifetime.

If you are among the millions living with depression, an eating disorder, anxiety, panic disorder, a personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or a psychotic disorder, you are not alone. You are surrounded by a community of people who understand what it feels like to live with a complicated condition. You are also only a phone call away from a care provider who will help you understand your condition, risk factors that trigger your symptoms and help you develop a treatment plan to ensure you maximize every day and lead a full and fully capable lifestyle.

If you believe that you may be suffering from a mental health disorder, talking about your concerns can be one of the most challenging but critical first steps you will take on your road to recovery. If you’re ready to talk to your doctor about  your mental health concerns, use this guide to help you confidently say those first, vital first words: “I need help.”

How to Start the Conversation with Your Doctor About Your Mental Health

Your doctor may perform a mental health screening during your annual physical. You may also consider scheduling an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns at any time throughout the year. The easiest way to begin a conversation with your doctor about your mental health is by describing your symptoms. Be specific about your symptoms and describe the frequency with which you experience them.

You may start the discussion with a simple statement. “I am concerned that [frequency] I feel [symptom]. Should I be worried?” Such statements may sound like:

  • “…Every day, I find myself obsessing over my weight and heavily constricting my calories…”
  • “…at least three days a week, I find myself so worried about things in my life that I can’t control that I struggle to get out of bed. About once a month, I even call in sick to work.”
  • “…I struggle throughout the day to control my emotions. Sometimes, for days at a time, I feel depressed or angry at everyone for no reason. Then it passes, and I feel like I have an abnormal amount of energy.”
  • “…several times a week, I’m not able to sleep because I have nightmares about my recent military service.”

Your doctor will ask specific and probing questions based on your opening statement to help them diagnose your condition, if necessary. Be patient and thoughtful in your answers. Your doctor may also want to ask questions about your medical and family history and about situations in your life that may be causing you stress. Be honest about whether you are suffering from financial difficulties, have recently suffered the loss of a loved one, or are going through a divorce. Such situations can cause extreme stress and result in depression and anxiety.

Also, be prepared with questions of your own, such as:

  • I often feel physical pain in my joints and muscles. Could depression be the cause?
  • Is anxiety hereditary?
  • Could my diet or sleep habits be contributing to my depression?
  • Could medication trigger my symptoms?
  • What can I do to manage my symptoms without or alongside medication?

The most important thing you should know is that there is no wrong way to talk to your doctor about your mental health symptoms. Asking for help from a medical professional is always the first critical step to reclaiming your life and learning to manage your condition.