Make Mental Health Part of Your Annual Checkup

Physician Katherine Rose, MD, offers tips for talking about mental health with your primary care doctor.

by Katherine Rose, MD

Many people need a combination of medications, talk therapy, and/or lifestyle changes to treat a mental health disorder. (Image by iStock)

When primary care doctors ask how our patients are feeling, we aren’t just wondering about bodily aches and pains. We want to know about your mental health, too.

General practitioners increasingly offer advice and treatment for common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. In fact, nearly 80 percent of antidepressants are now prescribed in primary care clinics.

Here are some tips for talking with your primary care doctor about your mental health:

    It can be hard to know how or when to bring up thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that worry you. By noting on the patient questionnaire what you’ve been experiencing, whether it’s loss of interest in normal activities, inability to focus or sleep, or increased alcohol or substance use, your responses help us to open the conversation.
  2. FOCUS
    It’s common to leave mental health concerns for the end of an annual checkup. But that leaves little time for meaningful discussion of symptoms and options for treatment. If you know in advance that you want to discuss a mental health concern, tell the appointment scheduler it’s the main reason for your visit.
    We know you’re busy. Many practices now offer online or app-based mental health services you can access anywhere you go. Programs like internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy are self-guided. Other types of video-chat therapy are led by specialized nurses, licensed social workers, and other skilled mental health professionals. These programs can keep your doctor updated on your progress.
    Mental health disorders can be complex. Many people need a combination of medications, talk therapy, and/or lifestyle changes before they start to feel better. Talking with your primary care doctor is only the first step. Be patient with the process and, most importantly, be patient with yourself!

Emergency resources: If you are thinking of harming yourself, don’t wait for an appointment. Call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free, confidential, 24/7 support. If you are a Massachusetts resident, you can call for local emergency mental health and substance use services toll-free at 1-877-382-1609 and entering your Zip Code.

Katherine Rose, MD
Brigham and Women’s Hospital