Revealing A Mental Health Problem To Your Primary Care Physician: Overcoming Obstacles And Getting The Referral You Need

It's hard to tell a close friend or relative that you're concerned with your mental health, let alone a medical professional like your primary care physician (PCP). You might worry that they'll misinterpret something you say, not take you seriously enough or leave a permanent stigma on your medical records, indicating that you're officially "crazy." While such apprehensions are usually exaggerated, actually receiving the right diagnosis and referral you need for mental health issues can be challenging. Don't let that stop you, though, as getting the help you need is simply too important, for your own sake as well as those who care about you.

Don't Wait Too Long To Ask Your Primary Care Doctor For Help

If you're worried that you'll be stigmatized by a mental health ailment, consider the fact that around 43.8 million adults in America endure some form of mental health problem every year, leaving you in good company. Waiting too long could not only lead to your condition getting worse, it also means you're suffering in the mean time, with fears and anxiety building up inside of you. Your life, both personally and professionally, may be adversely affected in perhaps permanent ways, too.

Because your primary care physician is your first line of defense, it's important that you bring a mental health issue to their attention as soon as you're aware of it so they can begin the process of figuring out what it is and how best to treat it. Don't be afraid of judgment or stigma, either; your doctor is going to empathize with the weight you're bearing under the burden of a mental health problem, and their priority will be to help, not to judge or otherwise make you feel uncomfortable.

Include Physical Symptoms

Quite frequently, mental and physical health are connected, which means you're probably going through physical symptoms as well. Make a list of what you're experiencing and present the list to your primary. These symptoms will offer clues to your condition and could even lead to a direct diagnosis, such as possible depression being linked to your thyroid or serious psychological symptoms being attributed to a neurological condition. Although feeling like something is wrong with you can create its own anxiety, your symptoms may reveal more to your PCP than you realize, leading to faster diagnosis and treatment or referral, so be sure and include anything you're going through (that is out of character for you), such as:

  • Feeling agitated
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Unexplained pain
  • Fatigue

Anything out of the ordinary should be noted and mentioned to your doctor, including any family history of mental and physical illness. If you're going through severe psychological symptoms, such as hallucinations or thoughts of harming yourself or others, it's imperative that you remain in safe hands until your condition can be identified and treated, no matter how hard it may be to reveal this information.

Ask To See A Nutritionist, Too

Your insurance may allow you to be evaluated by a nutritionist, especially if your PCP recommends it. Many conditions, such as diabetes (which, due to spikes in blood sugar and hormones can cause mood, memory, and other non-physical symptoms) and autoimmunity will be severely affected by your diet. A nutritionist will help you determine what the best foods are for you to eat and what you should avoid, leading to a near instantaneous improvement in how you feel.

Rule Out Physical Conditions, But Get The Mental Health Help You Need

While your primary care physician investigates your symptoms, you still need to talk to another professional about your mental health; however, it can be challenging for a patient to obtain the right referral from their primary care provider, often due to staff shortages or insurance complications. This problem is well documented and you should be aware of it as you move forward in seeking the right help for your problem. While your primary physician will do everything within their power to help and heal you, navigating the "system" is often frustrating and time-consuming. Nonetheless, having someone you can just talk to about what you're going through will go a long way, so advocate for yourself by specifically requesting the services of a mental health professional.

Follow Up With Your Primary Care Physician

No matter how the mental health aspects of your dilemma are addressed, be sure and keep your PCP in the loop. Doing so means keeping on top of physical symptoms, as well as possible side-effects of medications and making necessary adjustments to them, as needed. It also means you should be covered by your insurance, because the entire situation is directed or overseen by your primary care provider. When the PCP decides treatment is needed, it's usually going to be covered by your insurer, no matter what realm of the medical world the problem resides in.

It may be hard to tackle a mental health issue, especially with all of the red tape and jumping through hoops insurance can throw at you, but ultimately, it's worth it to discover what's going on with your own mind and body and what can be done to help. Don't give up on the system, flawed as it may be, and don't give up on yourself. With the guidance of your primary care physician and others, you'll get to the bottom of this, and hopefully find a suitable remedy to get you back to normal living again.