Mental Health

The Importance of Talking to Your Doctor About Mental Health

Woman talking to her doctor
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Most people make a visit to their doctor when they want to keep an eye on their physical health or are already sick and want to get better again. With that kind of emphasis on the body and not the mind, it’s easy to forget the importance of mental health to our overall wellness.

Amber Pace, the director of integrated behavioral health for Centura Health, a partnership between AdventHealth and CommonSpirit Health, recently helped a patient who realized this gap in her care. The patient was struggling with anxiety, so she made the decision to share that information with her primary care physician, who referred her to Pace. Since she started seeing Pace and working on new relaxation techniques, the patient has experienced fewer days with anxiety, and even on those days that she feels anxious, she reports it’s less disruptive than it was before.

“It’s important for patients to be able to share with their providers about their concerns, both physical and mental,” said Pace, who is a licensed clinical social worker and licensed addiction counselor. “When I first meet patients, I ask them what brought them in and if there are additional concerns they may have. We may not always discuss everything in one visit, but that does help us plan for future visits as well.”

Centura Health has licensed behavioral health providers in 25 clinics across the network. Through the integrated behavioral health program, patients are screened for depression at every ambulatory visit, and those who screen positive are referred to behavioral health consultants for short-term solution-focused therapy. Consultants meet with patients for a limited number of sessions and if patients are in need of ongoing behavioral health support, Centura Health works to bridge them until they can connect to that support.

How to Get Started

With one in every five adults experiencing a mental illness each year, understanding that your primary care physician can help you get the treatment you need is more important than ever. While it can be hard to reach out for help, your trusted physician can support your mental health when you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or depressed.

If you’re struggling with mental health, below are some tips on how you can prepare to talk to your doctor.

Make a Plan

Bringing up mental health is a lot easier said than done. Make it happen with a plan. Write down on your to-do list when you’re going to call and schedule an appointment. It can be during your wellness visit or a separate special checkup.

Decide the date and time you’ll call the office. Put it in your calendar. And when that time comes, pick up the phone or request an appointment online.

Practice Makes Perfect

Despite the growing awareness around the importance of mental health, there’s still a stigma attached to the topic — even when talking to doctors. Practice having the conversation with a trusted family member or friend. Share the feelings and symptoms you’ve been experiencing and be upfront about seeking help.

Chances are your loved one will support you on your journey and may even share their own mental health struggles or experiences. That practice can help make it a little easier to open up when you do meet with your doctor.

Prepare for the Appointment

If you’re still feeling nervous about your appointment, write down a few notes about what you want to share. Jot down recurring symptoms, when they occur and how long they last. Think about questions you want to ask your doctor and any treatment goals you may have.

Goals may include types of treatment you want to try (therapy, medication or another approach) or milestones you want to achieve — fewer panic attacks or the ability to deal with stress, for example.

Know Your Strength

Many people feel like it’s a weakness or failure to ask for help when facing a mental illness. But the truth is, recognizing you’re suffering from a medical condition that can be treated, and seeking the support you need to be the healthiest version of you, shows real strength.

Your doctor will be there for you at every step of your health journey. Listening, supporting and guiding you to the treatment you need — whether it’s for diabetes, high blood pressure, a temporary illness, anxiety, depression or another mental illness. And, your provider will offer those resources with compassionate care that’s focused on improving your physical, mental and spiritual health.

“More than anything, we are here to care for patients and support their health in body, mind and spirit,” Pace said. “Sometimes, simply writing things down and handing a note to your physician can start the conversation.”

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