How Do I Tell a Doctor I'm Depressed?

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If you haven't been feeling like yourself and think you might be depressed, speak with your family doctor first, if you have one. If you don't have one, then scheduling an appointment with a general practitioner would be a good place to start. The reason I make this recommendation is that there are several medical conditions, such as vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hormonal changes and thyroid conditions which can cause symptoms similar to depression.

It is also possible that your depressed feelings could be the result of medication side-effects or some other cause.

By giving you a thorough checkup, your doctor can rule out any other potential causes for your depression symptoms. In addition, depending upon how your insurance works, it may be necessary to see your primary physician first in order to obtain a referral to a more specialized mental health care provider, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Asking for Help

While you may feel embarrassed to ask for help, it is not necessary to feel this way. Depression is a very common condition and your doctor is already quite familiar with it. It will not seem strange or shameful in any way to her that you are feeling depressed. In addition, you don't need to worry about your friends, family or employer finding out about your depression. The HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Privacy Rule prevents your physician from disclosing your private medical information without your permission.

So, how do you bring up the topic of depression? All you really need to do is to mention just what you told me: that you haven't been feeling like yourself and you believe that you might be suffering from depression. This will open the door for your doctor to get you the help that you need.

Unfortunately, there isn't currently a definitive lab test which can be used to diagnose depression so your doctor will do a few things.

First of all, she will perform a physical exam and run several different blood tests to rule out other conditions which might be causing your symptoms. Some of the possible tests which she might run include:

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Thyroid Function Check
  • Creatinine and Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN)
  • Liver Function Check
  • Fasting Blood Glucose
  • Cholesterol
  • Calcium and Magnesium Level
  • Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 Levels

Next, she may ask you some questions to determine whether you have any possible risk factors for depression. Some of the known risk factors for depression include:

  • Being female
  • Being under stress
  • Undergoing adverse events during childhood
  • Having certain personality traits
  • Having a family history of depression
  • Not having many friends or personal relationships
  • Having recently given birth
  • Having a history of depression
  • Having a serious illness
  • Taking certain prescription medications
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol

In addition, she may ask you about what symptoms you are having. Among the symptoms which she might ask you about are:

  • Feelings of sadness or depression
  • Not enjoying things like you used to
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Insomnia or sleeping more than usual
  • Feeling restless
  • Feeling extremely tired
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling guilty
  • Having problems thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thinking frequently about death or suicide

Finally, she is going to supplement all of the information that you are providing her with her own observations of your behavior. People with depression often exhibit the following signs:

  • Appearing preoccupied
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Not remembering things or appearing to have trouble with concentrating
  • Pacing, wringing their hands or pulling at their hair
  • Appearing agitated
  • Speaking slowly with long pauses
  • Sighing
  • Moving slowly
  • Being self-deprecating
  • Crying or appearing sad

If your doctor has ruled out other possible causes for how you are feeling and feels that your symptoms and history are indicative of depression, she will either opt to treat you herself using antidepressant medications or she may instead refer you to a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist or both for treatment. Psychiatrists have specialized training and expertise with using medications to treat depression and mental illness while psychotherapists specialize in using talk therapy to help you with your depression. A combination of the two approaches is often the best way to treat depression.

Sources

"Depression Diagnosis."  WebMD.  WebMD, LLC.  Accessed:  August 28, 2015.

Ferri, Fred F. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2009. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Mobsy, 2009.

"Health Information Privacy."  HHS.gov.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Accessed:  August 28, 2015.

Stern, Theodore A. et. al. eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Mosby Elsevier : 2008.

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