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How to Talk to Your Doctor About Depression

How to Talk to Your Doctor About Depression

I’m a lifer—depression for life. It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t feel depressed. I was diagnosed for the first time at 14, and so began my journey of medication and therapy.

But I was lucky. At 14, my mother was the one who noticed the symptoms and took me in to the doctor’s office for help. I didn’t have to do that myself. I’ve carried the depression diagnosis (plus more) with me ever since then. It’s just a part of me now.

Not everyone has the luxury of being taken for help when they start experiencing depression. The icy, lonely, isolating nature of the illness makes talking about it feel impossible—let alone talking with a doctor you barely know.

The only way you’ll start feeling better, though, is by asking your doctor for help. If you do have clinical depression, lots of treatment options are available to you. Many who are diagnosed with this condition live happy lives due to successful management of their symptoms.

Symptoms of Depression

It’s normal to be sad, lonely or uninterested in life once in a while. When these feelings last for a long period of time and begin affecting your everyday life, you might be experiencing depression.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America, Major Depressive Disorder affects approximately 16.1 million American adults in a given year. Here are some of the many symptoms caused by depression:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Constant sadness
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Irritability
  • Pessimism and hopelessness
  • An “empty” feeling
  • Sleep disturbances (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Loss of interest in activities you enjoy

If you notice you’ve been feeling one or more of these symptoms for a long time, don’t brush them aside. Get yourself some help.

Why You Should Ask for Help

Depression isn’t something you can just talk yourself out of. If you’ve been experiencing strong negative feelings for a long time, they’re not going to disappear with the snap of a finger. 

Clinical depression causes physical and emotional symptoms that can get in the way of a successful life, or even threaten your life. Most of the time, someone diagnosed with depression needs medication, therapy or both to manage their symptoms and feel better.

Nobody should go through the isolation of depression alone, without help. The first place to start is your family doctor or general practitioner. These guys are your first line of defense against depression.

Your doctor can run tests to find out if a physical condition is causing your symptoms. He can also get you started on medication and refer you to other specialists if necessary.

Opening up Is Hard

Depression is a tricky monster because the disorder itself can make asking for help seem impossible.

Depression has a funny way of telling me little lies like, “you don’t deserve help,” “you’re just being a big baby” or “your doctor can’t help you with this problem.” It’s really hard to see through these lies and do the right thing to take care of yourself.

You might not be close with your doctor and have trouble opening up about this problem. You’re probably embarrassed to talk about it at all.

I recommend reading up on the illness to prepare yourself. It will help you realize that this is a clinical disorder, that requires clinical treatment.

How to Talk to Your Doctor About Depression

You’ve decided to make some changes and have a talk with your doctor, but you have no idea how to do it. Something as simple as telling your doctor you’re sad all the time feels like baring your soul to the universe.

You might not be comfortable talking about your feelings, let alone with a near stranger. So how do you break through the barriers and get the help you need?

1. Make the Appointment

First, make an appointment with your doctor. This step alone can be terrifying when you’re facing depression. Call your main doctor’s office to make an appointment, and when asked what the appointment is for, simply say “mental health” or something similar.

That’s all it takes to get on the road to recovery. You can also bring up your suspected depression at an appointment for another issue.

2. Start Talking

You’re at the appointment, and now you have to get the words flowing. Start by simply telling your doctor the symptoms that are affecting your life. This will get the conversation started and spark some questions for your doctor to ask you. Some example conversation starters:

  • “I’ve been spending too much time sleeping lately. I’ve slept for entire days at a time and missed important events or appointments.”
  • “Lately, I’m having trouble making myself accomplish simple things. It feels so draining to do even the most everyday tasks.”
  • “I’ve been much more irritable than usual. It seems like every little thing and person sets me off.”
  • “It’s been hard to eat lately. I usually have such a great appetite but it’s completely gone.”
  • “I’m having trouble enjoying life and feeling weighed down by something. It feels very empty lately.”

It may be extremely difficult to get those one or two sentences out. But if you can get that far, you’ve won half the battle. Now your doctor can take over by asking you more questions and assessing your mental health.

3. Mention Other Symptoms

Now the conversation is flowing, and your doctor is assessing whether or not you might be experiencing depression.

To make the most accurate assessment, your doctor needs to know all your symptoms and history, both physical and mental. This way, she can explore any underlying health issues that could contribute to your depression.

Be sure to mention any of the following, which can help identify underlying health problems:

  • All medications you are currently taking
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Substance abuse
  • A chronic illness
  • Big life events

It’s best to paint the whole picture so your doctor can screen you for depression with as much information as possible. This will lead to a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

4. Ask Questions

You’ve gotten through the hard part. You’ve taken the most important step and asked for help. Now the conversation should be flowing, and you should make sure to ask questions.

Take control of your health by asking the questions that are surely on your mind. Here are some example questions to ask your doctor:

  • “Will I need medication to manage my depression?”
  • “Could any underlying health issues be causing me to feel this way?”
  • “When do you expect me to begin feeling better?”
  • “What should I do in an emergency?”
  • “When should I follow up with you?”

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your mental health is just as important as any other aspect of your health, so it deserves the same amount of attention and care.

What to Expect Next

If your doctor diagnoses you with depression, there are a few treatment routes he may take. First, any underlying health problems will be treated. Then, depending on your type and severity of depression, the doctor may:

  • Refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist
  • Prescribe medication
  • Adjust current medications
  • Link you with community resources

If you begin taking medication, it’s wise to follow up with a psychiatrist who specializes in mental health medications. That way, you’ll ensure you are taking the appropriate medication and receive care specialized to mental health. Make sure to continue your treatment, even if you’re feeling better.

Living With Depression

Your mental health is as important as your physical health. If you were diagnosed with a heart condition, you’d take medication and see specialists. Why treat depression any differently?

If something seems off, trust your gut and tell your doctor. If you’re still uncomfortable talking about it, bring someone you trust with you to the appointment. They can help explain how you’re feeling to the doctor or just serve as moral support for you.

Your life depends on the proper treatment and management of depression. Seek the help you need and keep faith that you’ll find an effective treatment option.

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