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4 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Your Mental Health

September 08, 2021

When you’re feeling under the weather, you probably call to schedule a visit with your doctor’s office without hesitation. But what about when you’re not feeling like yourself mentally? You can talk about your mental health with your provider, too.

When you think about “health,” physical health is often the headliner. That makes sense—our physical body is what helps us get through each day as we move around and tackle tasks in our work or at school. The physical is also more obvious, since it’s often what we actually see.

But your mental health is every bit as important as your physical health. When you’re affected by a mental health issue or simply feeling a little off-kilter mentally, it can actually impact your physical health, too.

Think about it: On a day when you’re feeling anxious or sad, it becomes much more difficult to go through the actions of daily life. You may find that you’re experiencing a headache or tummy troubles. That’s your mental health affecting your physical health.

If you aren’t feeling quite right mentally, it’s important to share what you’re experiencing with your doctor or nurse practitioner.

Autumn Ellis, NP

“When you’re feeling sick, you describe your symptoms to your medical provider to help us understand what’s happening,” says Autumn Ellis, NP, APRN, FNP-C, nurse practitioner with West Tennessee Medical Group. “You should feel just as comfortable sharing symptoms related to your mental health. We want to know exactly how you’re feeling, with no filter, so that we can get you back to feeling your best.”

Not sure how to start the conversation? These four questions can help:

What could my symptoms mean?
If you aren’t feeling at your best, it may be beneficial to keep a diary of what you’re feeling for a few days. Tracking your symptoms can help you remember them all when you’re at a medical visit.

Make notes about symptoms such as these:

  • Difficulty sleeping or changes in sleeping habits
  • Frequent anxiety or worry
    • Inability to concentrate
    • Irritability
    • Lack of enjoyment in previously enjoyable aspects of life
  • Loss of appetite
    • Mood swings
  • Negative thoughts 

Describe your symptoms to your doctor and ask whether they could be a sign of a mental health issue. On the flip side, ask whether the mental health symptoms you’re experiencing might actually be related to a physical health condition, which sometimes happens.

I feel sad a lot. When is that a problem?
If you read back through the list of symptoms above, you’ll probably notice that most of the symptoms are something we all experience at some time or another. It’s quite common to wonder when these are normal and when they become a problem.

There’s often a fine line between everyday emotions and feelings and the signs of a mental health disorder. Talking honestly with your medical provider about when and how often you’re experiencing those symptoms can help him or her make a diagnosis and determine next steps.

My mother has an anxiety disorder. Does that make me more likely to have one?
We know that many medical conditions have some sort of genetic component, and mental health issues are no different. Conditions such as anxiety and depression are more common in those who have a family history of them

If you had a family history of cancer, you’d probably worry or at least wonder about whether you were at risk. It’s totally normal to do the same if your mother or another family member has a mental health disorder.

Taking time to outline your family health history can arm you with useful information related to your own personal health risk, which you can then discuss with your doctor.

If I have a mental health issue, how long will I need treatment?
Asking questions like this one can help you get a good handle on your medical issue, as well as how it will be treated. You want to gather information about the treatment your provider is recommending; if you’ll be taking medications, get the details on the type of medication, the dosage, any potential side effects, how to take the medication properly, and how long you need to take it.

This information can also be helpful from another perspective. When you’re visiting the doctor because you have a stomach bug, you want to know how long it will take before you’re back to normal. While the answer to that question can be a little less obvious when your mental health is involved, it’s a natural question to have—and one your provider can help clarify.

A regular checkup can help gauge both your physical and mental health. Is it time to schedule your annual wellness check? Find a provider.