How to talk to your doctor about mental health

Avatar for Mish Khot By in anxiety, counselling, Depression, mental health, psychology on 28/04/2021
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Despite having come a long way when it comes to health and medicine, mental health issues are still poorly understood and addressed. This is because of the stigma still associated with mental health concerns even in a developed country like Australia.

how to talk to your doctor about mental health

Some of you may feel awkward consulting even a doctor when it comes to your mental problems for this very reason. However you should know that every meeting with a medical practitioner – whether you meet a counselor online or in person – is private and confidential so you do not have to feel uncomfortable. Knowing how to talk to your doctor about mental health can help allay these fears. Mental illnesses are more common than you think; you or someone you know is likely to experience mental health issues at some point in your lifetime.

If you are confused about mental health treatment, it is best to start with knowing how to talk to your doctor about mental health illnesses and concerns. Start by approaching your family doctor or general practitioner (GP). Some of them are trained and qualified in mental illness but if they are not, they can guide you towards the appropriate treatment. Knowing how to talk to doctor about mental health will be the first step towards winning the battle against these health problems.

How to talk to your doctor about mental health – Asking the right questions

Learning how to talk to doctor about mental health condition and issues is the best way to seek treatment. You can approach your regular doctor or health centre to start your journey towards restoring your mental health.

If you do not have a regular doctor, ask your social circle or those you trust for a referral. You might also speak to an established pharmacist in your area or look online. Once you have narrowed down your choice of professional, you can reach out to them to ask questions about:

  • Their training, experience and qualification in mental health issues
  • The procedures to book an appointment
  • The nature of your specific medical issue
  • The doctor’s billing policy
  • Finding a psychologist near me
  • Any specific needs you might have such as culture, language, disability
  • How do they dispense treatment and is their practice easily accessible
  • The possible treatment options along with their associated costs, risks and benefits
  • The period of treatment and scope for complete recovery
  • Is treatment possible and if not, what are its implications

Remember that these are not the only questions you can ask your GP. Ask them as many questions as you feel necessary to help you feel comfortable and confident talking to your doctor. Any mental health treatment should provide ongoing care, support, assessment and even references to highly experienced mental health professionals such as psychologists, if needed.

learn how to talk about mental health

Do not feel embarrassed or pressured in any way when figuring out your preferred doctor. If they use words you are not familiar with, do not hesitate to seek explanations for the same. It is imperative that you understand all that is being discussed because your mental health depends on it. Ask a loved one to accompany you if you feel overwhelmed and need support.

How to talk to doctor about mental health – Before the appointment

The first step you need to take after you’ve done your research is to book an appointment. You should plan for a first visit of at least 30 minutes so that you have enough time to talk at length about your specific mental health condition and planning the right course of treatment.

Once you have made your booking, you should take some time to prepare for the visit. This involves the following:

  • Put down all the reasons for scheduling the visit
  • List the concerns you would like to address
  • List questions about anxiety meaning or definitions of what you’re going through – it is important to understand what is happening to you
  • Make a list of questions that you may have about the treatment
  • Do your homework about prevailing medical issues in your family
  • Make a list of the medications you are already taking, if this is a new doctor you are visiting

It can help if you enlist the help of a loved one to help you prepare for the same.

How to talk to doctor about mental health – During the appointment

It is important that you are open and candid during the appointment. Be prepared to discuss sensitive issues or topics that you wouldn’t usually touch upon. It is the professional’s job to understand your deepest concerns and help you unravel any emotional knots, but it may get difficult at some points.

Here are some things to remember:

  • You should explain all your concerns and issues and tell the professional how they have affected your life
  • Work out the length of time you have been dealing with the mental conditions for which you are seeking treatment
  • If you try therapies like breathing exercises and find them helpful, let your doctor know so that they can suggest similar therapies
  • You may be asked about sensitive topics like your medical history, family medical history, drug abuse, alcohol dependencies or other addictions
  • Be very clear about any current lines of treatment, therapies and medicines, as well as vitamins and supplements
  • Tell them about your specific triggers and stressors, especially recent ones
  • Explain any current symptoms that you are experiencing without hiding any embarrassing details
  • Be upfront about the cost and fees and whether you qualify for Medicare

Do remember that your mental health professional is there to help you get better. They are likely to:

  • Ask questions to help them understand your specific medical state and suggest the most suitable course of action
  • Provide access to support groups, online resources, self-help measures and referrals
  • Help set up a mental health care plan that qualifies you for Medicare rebates for a maximum of six visits to a qualified mental health professional
  • Suggest additional sessions if there is a need for the same

How to talk to your doctor about mental health – Discussing care plans

A mental health care plan is a document prepared by your doctor with your help. It takes into consideration your current state of health and personal needs. A mental health care plan allows you to claim money for mental health services through Medicare, whether this is from a psychologist or a mental health worker.

communicating about mental health

Do note that it takes a while to make this form so it is best that you do it when you and your doctor can schedule a longer appointment. It is recommended that you prepare and learn how to talk to doctor about mental health care plan before formulating the same.

There are certain items in the plan which are for those suffering a mental health illness and would benefit greatly from a well-planned approach to cater to their individual needs. A mental health illness or mental disorder encompasses a number of clinical disorders that can hamper your ability to lead a normal life by impairing your cognitive, emotional and social abilities and include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Psychotic disorders (Chronic as well as acute)
  • Phobic disorder
  • Eating disorder
  • Substance and drug abuse
  • Attention Deficit Disorders
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Alcohol addictions
  • Nervous breakdown
  • Panic disorders
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Conduct disorder
  • Idiopathic somatic problems
  • Bereavement disorders
  • Adjustment disorders

This is by no means an exhaustive list of mental health disorders. Any mental health conditions that require specialized treatment and hamper your abilities to function in daily life can fall under this category of disorders.

How to talk to doctor about mental health – Confidentiality and comfort levels

Very few health concerns are as personal as mental health problems. It is normal to feel awkward to talk about them or to be apprehensive about your privacy, but you should know that everything that is discussed with your doctor is absolutely confidential.

Barring a few exceptional circumstances, your doctor is under oath to never discuss you and all that is related to your health with anyone you might know, including close family members, including your spouse or employer.

discuss mental health with doctor

Without your approval, your doctor is not at liberty to share any details related to your mental health condition. There are rules in place to ensure the same which makes it easier to know how to talk to your doctor about mental health privacy.

Exceptional circumstances that allow the doctor to breach these rules are:

  • There is possibility of harm to you or to others
  • The doctor is certain that you cannot take care of yourself
  • The doctor believes that you do not comprehend your medical concerns, which can prevent you from seeking the right information and receiving optimal treatment

If you still feel unsure of what your doctor can reveal to others and what stays private, you should make it a point to discuss this at the beginning of the appointment. It is best to clear the air and eliminate any scope of ambiguity. All health professionals are well versed with these privacy laws and are legally bound to follow them.

How to talk to doctor about mental health – Building mutual trust and respect

Learning how to talk to your doctor about mental health problems is imperative to establishing a solid working relationship based on trust and respect. This also helps mitigate any lingering embarrassment you might feel when discussing critical mental health concerns with your medical professional.

The best way to go about it is to be open and honest from the very beginning of your consultation. Another tool that helps is active listening; communicating with and not at your doctor.

talk to your mental health doctor

Ask questions to clear all concerns regarding the available forms of treatment, medicines and effects of both on your mental and physical health. When your doctor answers, listen carefully and feel free to take notes if you need it.

If ever you begin to feel discomfort while talking to your doctor or feel that they lack the expertise or experience that you require, you are free to look for another who instils a feeling of comfort and seek treatment by booking an appointment with them.

How to talk to your doctor about mental health – Discussing medicines and side effects

Medicines are a common line of treatment for a range of mental health conditions. In some cases, the course of treatment prescribed for you may be simply to work towards better work life balance or learn how to fall asleep. It is normal for your doctor to suggest medicine to help combat your mental health issues. It is therefore essential that you feel comfortable and know how to talk to doctor about mental health medicines and their known side effects.

The different types of medications that address a number of mental health conditions are:

  • Mood stabilizers
  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics

If your doctor prescribes any form of medication, it is essential that you know how and why you need to consume it. You should also be aware of any potential side effects that may pop up during the course of treatment.

It is always wise to tell your doctor about any current medicines, therapies, supplements and alternative medical treatments so that you can avoid complications from mixing the two.

medicines for mental health

Consult your doctor immediately if you happen to have any undesirable side effects from the medicines. They may suggest that you cut down on the dosage, change your medication, or request you to stop taking the medicine altogether. Do not take this decision on your own – some medications require you to gradually reduce the dose as it can be risky to stop abruptly.

How to talk to doctor about mental health – Communication issues to anticipate

Here are some communication issues that you may experience as you learn how to talk to your doctor about mental health:

  • Language barriers, especially if you are not native to the country in which you are residing
  • Hearing issues, if you suffer from any ear-related problems
  • Confidence concerns, if you have low self-esteem problems
  • Gender-related issues which could lead to communication gaps

You can address some or all of these issues by bringing along someone to ask questions on your behalf especially if the issues are related to language, hearing and confidence. For gender related concerns, you could look for a doctor of the same gender and confirm the same before you book your first appointment.

Finding the right doctor

When looking for a mental health professional, one of the best places to start is on the internet. Many people find their doctors this way because they may be reluctant to discuss mental health even with close friends or family.

Scour the web for doctors located in your vicinity and browse their qualifications and areas of expertise. You can also call them and enquire if they have any interest or experience in dealing with mental health concerns. If not, they might be able to refer you to other doctors who would be best suited to treat your mental health condition.

Avatar for Mish Khot

Mishana Khot is a fiction author and co-founder of The Great Next, an adventure travel company. She has been featured in National Geographic, Forbes magazine, and other publications, and has over 15 years of experience with health, travel, and lifestyle brands.

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