Should I talk to my primary care provider about my mental health?

Should I talk to my primary care provider about my mental health?

Olivia E Bogucki, PhD

Olivia E Bogucki, PhD

Olivia E. Bogucki, Ph.D. is a medical psychology fellow in the clinical health psychology track at Mayo Clinic. She holds an academic appointment as an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. In her clinical practice, she provides short-term evidence-based psychotherapy for a broad range of behavioral health needs in an integrated care setting. Her research focuses on population-level care for mental health conditions, implementation science, and program development and quality improvement within integrated care settings.

Should I talk to my primary care provider about my mental health?

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Primary Care - Stethoscope - Mental Health Blog

It can be challenging to know when to seek therapy and how to get connected with care. Talking to your primary care provider is one option.

Primary care plays an important role in helping us to be healthy. You may visit your primary care provider when you feel sick, if you develop a new symptom, or once a year for an annual wellness visit. Primary care providers can also help if you are concerned about your mental health.

Why should I talk to my primary care provider?

Primary care is often the first point of contact with the healthcare system. This is true for patients experiencing mental health symptoms. Studies have shown that mental health concerns like anxiety and depression are in the top ten reasons for primary care visits. Consequently, primary care providers often help patients with mental health concerns. 

It is important that your primary care providers is aware of your mental health concerns because there is a connection between physical and mental health. Medical conditions can increase risk for mental health conditions. One example is higher rates of anxiety among those who have had cancer compared to those who have not. Mental health conditions can make it more challenging to manage medical conditions, which can negatively impact health. For example, you may have a harder time regularly checking your blood sugar if you have diabetes and are feeling depressed. Medical conditions can present as mental health symptoms. This is one reason why mental health providers often recommend having an annual wellness visit. Your primary care provider may perform a physical exam or order certain laboratory tests to make sure your symptoms are not due to a medical condition. A common example is the thyroid gland, which can cause symptoms of anxiety or depression when it is overactive or underactive. All of these examples show that mental health is health.

How can I talk to my primary care provider?

Talking about mental health can be hard. There are a few ways that you can bring up the subject with your primary care provider.

Answer the pre-visit self-report questionnaires honestly. The most common questionnaires used in primary care are the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7). These short questionnaires tell primary care providers a lot of information about the symptoms that you are experiencing and the impact that they are having on your daily life. In addition, these questionnaires are a signal to your primary care provider that they should be asking for more information about your mental health.

Write it down on your list of things that you want to talk about with your primary care provider. This strategy can help organize and prioritize all of the questions and concerns that you have in case you start to feel anxious. You can share this list with the nursing staff at the beginning of the visit or directly with your primary care provider. 

Bring a person that you trust to your appointment such as a partner, parent, or close friend. It may be a little easier to talk about mental health concerns when that person is with you. They may also be able to help fill in important information that you do not know or is difficult to talk about.

Can my primary care provider help me find a mental health provider?

Primary care practices often have connections with mental health providers in the community. They may be able to recommend or make a referral to a certain program or provider that specializes in the mental health concerns that you are experiencing. Some primary care practices offer individual and/or group therapy in the same exact building. The primary care and mental health providers work together to improve both your physical and mental health.

Primary care providers are able to prescribe medication for mental health concerns. They often have knowledge about and experience with common mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. It may be surprising to learn that primary care providers write more prescriptions for antidepressant medications than psychiatrists.

If you are experiencing mental health concerns, primary care can help.
 

Olivia E Bogucki, PhD

Olivia E Bogucki, PhD

Olivia E. Bogucki, Ph.D. is a medical psychology fellow in the clinical health psychology track at Mayo Clinic. She holds an academic appointment as an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. In her clinical practice, she provides short-term evidence-based psychotherapy for a broad range of behavioral health needs in an integrated care setting. Her research focuses on population-level care for mental health conditions, implementation science, and program development and quality improvement within integrated care settings.

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