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How to Talk to a Doctor about Depression
Modern medicine is too often practiced under time pressure. Doctors are becoming more rushed and might not feel they have the time needed for just a talk. This makes it even more difficult for patients made reticent by depression to voice their concerns. However, depression is a real disease and you need to break through the time crunch barrier to get the treatment you need.
Before you go to your appointment, think about the conversation you’d like to have. What do you want to communicate to your physician? How can you best express your feelings and what is going on in your life?
Your doctor will want to know about your daily moods, your behaviors and habits. Care will depend partially on how honest you can be. Because depression often comes with feelings of shame, this can be a difficult conversation. None of us likes admitting to what feels like personal failure or sound like we are whining. By rehearsing the subjects you’d like to cover, you are more likely to broach sensitive areas – like relationship difficulties (including sex), problems at work and your feelings about hurting yourself.
Some experts recommend you make up a little cheat sheet by writing down the significant issues. This can be reviewed in the waiting room or even while you are talking to your doctor.
What are your expectations? Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking modern medicine consists of miracles on demand – one problem, one pill. While your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant (they are the second most commonly prescribed type of drug), they may not. And even when medication is appropriate, there is no single drug that works best for everyone. It’s important to realize that it may take weeks or longer to really start to feel better.
You should expect to be listened to and heard. If you do not feel your concerns are being addressed, you can ask for a recommendation to a mental health specialist.
It is much better to make an appointment with depression as the main complaint. This preps your doctor and shapes how the appointment will play out. If you just sneak in your concerns during a regular visit, your physician may not pick up on the importance. So let them know the purpose of the visit up front.
Symptoms and tests
There is no lab test that will show depression. Diagnosis is done by talking to patients and perhaps by asking them to take a depression survey. This written test will ask you to rank your feelings and answer questions about your lifestyle. If you are asked to take this type of evaluation, be as honest as possible – the survey is designed by highly trained psychologists to help diagnose your condition.
Your doctor may also do tests related to your physical condition. This is because mood disorders may have an underlying biological cause. Illnesses of many types are associated with depression. Your physician may want to eliminate other causes.
One test that patients may not understand is doing a trial of an antidepressant medication. Part of the diagnosis of depression may be whether and what type of antidepressant helps the condition. This can take some time, as one medication is tried and rejected because it didn’t help (or had side effects) and a second or third is offered – don’t get discouraged here, this is part of the process.
Is it worth it?
The short answer is yes. Talking through your problem with a trained professional is very much worth it. They represent a trusted confidant who doesn’t have an agenda, unlike others with whom you have relationships. You can “lay it all out there” without embarrassment and without being judged.
You don’t have to suffer needlessly. There is an escape from the trap. Remember, part of being depressed is the belief—the false belief—that nothing can be done.
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