Over the past few decades, two cultural shifts have led to many complications in the diagnosis and treatment of common psychological disorders. The first is the rise of the internet, which has made it possible for people to do their own research and come to their own conclusions. Unfortunately, this often leads to an incorrect -- or incomplete -- self-diagnosis. This is worsened by the second cultural shift, which is the overwhelming desire to label every facet of human behavior. These two factors can make it very difficult for doctors and patients to have meaningful, productive conversations about psychological disorders.
So, when and how should you approach your doctor with concerns about your mental health?
When to See Your Doctor
It can be a challenge to know when some aspect of your personality is simply a quirk or idiosyncrasy and when it's a symptom. This is why it's so important to speak with your doctor; diagnosis is a complex process that considers many different factors.
Generally speaking, if you experience one or more of the following symptoms for a prolonged period, and in such a way that they disrupt your normal routine, talk to your doctor. The most frequently seen symptoms of common psychological disorders include:
- Feeling sad
- Confusion or lack of focus
- Excessive fears or worries
- Extreme feelings of guilt
- Extreme mood changes
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Fatigue or sleep disruptions
- Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia, or hallucinations
- Reduced ability to cope with daily problems or stress
- Trouble understanding and relating to situations and people
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Major changes in eating habits
- Changes in sex drive
- Excessive anger, hostility, or violence
- Suicidal thoughts
Depending on their severity and frequency, these symptoms could all be warning signs of a wide variety of conditions. If you do experience one or more of these symptoms, it can be overwhelming to try and make sense of them. But openly discussing the situation with your doctor will help give you some insight and clarity, which could reduce some of your fears.
How to Bring It Up and Prepare
That being said, the prospect of actually approaching your doctor could bring a whole new set of anxieties along with it. How should you bring up your concerns and what should you be prepared to talk about? First, it's important to be open and honest with your doctor. Before the appointment, take time to write down all your symptoms, as well as any questions you want to ask. For example, you may want to ask about treatment options and how long treatment can take, or about any action on your part that may help your condition.
Often, people are hesitant to talk to doctors about their mental health because they are afraid of being put on medication -- particularly antidepressants. If this is true in your case, talk to your doctor about your concerns. If you've been on medication in the past, discuss your experience with your doctor. There are likely other medications or therapy options that could be useful to you, but you won't know unless you talk to a trained medical professional.
As you prepare for your appointment, keep in mind that your doctor will likely have some questions for you as well. They'll likely want to know:
- When you first noticed your symptoms and how they've impacted your daily life
- What you've undergone for mental illness in the past
- What triggers your symptoms
- Whether family members or friends have commented on your behavior
- Whether you have blood relatives with a mental illness
- What you hope to gain from treatment
- What medications or over-the-counter herbs and supplements you take
- Whether you drink alcohol or use recreational drugs
Again, give your doctor honest answers to these questions so that they have a complete idea of your individual situation and can design a treatment plan that's specifically for you.