How to Tell Your Doctor You're Depressed

Tips for Talking to Your Doctor About Depression and Anxiety

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If you haven't been feeling like yourself and think you might be depressed, start by scheduling an appointment with a primary care physician.

Many people feel embarrassed to ask for help with depression symptoms, but you don't have to be ashamed. 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 your doctor that you are feeling depressed.

How to Discuss Your Depression With a Doctor

  • Share your symptoms.
  • Avoid minimizing feelings.
  • Be open about medications you're taking.
  • Ask for a referral.

Some insurance plans require that you see a primary physician first in order to obtain a referral to a more specialized mental health care provider, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. So, having that initial conversation is important.

This article provides helpful tips that will help you begin a conversation about your depression or anxiety with a doctor. It also covers diagnostic tests a doctor may perform as well as common depression treatments.

Depression Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide to help you ask the right questions at your next doctor's appointment.

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How to Talk to Your Doctor About Depression

Remember, getting started is usually the hardest part. Once you get the conversation going, it may easier to open up about your depression symptoms in more detail.

Practice Your Opening Line

Some doctors are intuitive and may detect that you're not feeling like yourself without you needing to say anything. However, most of the time, you'll have to bring up your emotional state on your own. While some doctors will inquire about your mental state, others will not.

Try reciting out loud what you're going to say to a doctor beforehand. This can help calm your nerves and prevent the "blanking out" that sometimes happens when the time comes to speak up.

How to Start the Conversation

Tell your doctor that you haven't been feeling like yourself and you believe that you might be depressed. This will open the door for your doctor to get you the help that you need.

The following are some examples of what you might say:

  • "I've been feeling extremely low, and I think I may be depressed."
  • "May I be referred to a mental health professional to discuss my depression?"
  • "I've been researching depression and I feel I have many of the symptoms."

Research Depression Symptoms

It's not necessary to perform research prior to a doctor's appointment. However, doing a quick online search of common depression symptoms may help you put into words what you've been experiencing, making it easier to speak to a doctor about your experience.

You may share something like:

  • "I haven't been enjoying the things I usually do."
  • "I lack the motivation to see friends or leave my house."
  • "I feel completely worthless and the feeling won't go away."
  • "I've been having thoughts of suicide and they're scaring me."

Keep a Journal

Try keeping a journal or taking notes in your phone on what your symptoms are, when you experience them, how long they last, what seems to help relieve them (if anything), and any other life stressors or triggers you feel are contributing to your depression symptoms.

Feel free to bring your symptoms journal to a doctor's appointment. The most important thing is being able to communicate what's going on to the doctor, and consulting your notes can help you do just that.

Avoid Minimizing Your Feelings

It is important to be up-front about your symptoms. Don't dismiss or minimize what you've been experiencing. Even mild symptoms of depression can disrupt your life, and can often grow worse over time if left untreated.

You might say something such as:

  • "I've been feeling hopeless for the last few weeks."
  • "I'm not able to enjoy the things I used to do."
  • "I feel fatigued and sad almost all of the time."
  • "My symptoms are making it difficult to function normally in my life."

Ask for a Referral

If you feel like you need to see a therapist or psychiatrist for additional treatments, ask your doctor for a referral. While your primary care physician can prescribe medications such as antidepressants, you will need to see a therapist for additional treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

To ask for a referral, you might say:

  • "I feel like it would be helpful to see a specialist. Can you refer me to someone?"
  • "Who would you recommend that I see for therapy?"
  • "I feel like I'm ready to talk to a therapist about additional treatment options. Who would you recommend?"

The treatment that will work best for you depends in part on your specific diagnosis. Your doctor will consider this information when referring you to a mental health professional for further evaluation and treatment.

Reassure Yourself

Find ways to manage stress and reassure yourself in the time leading up to your appointment. Relaxation techniques you might practice include mindfulness, deep breathing, and meditation.

Some people don't communicate because they're concerned with being a "good patient" or they're embarrassed. Be honest with your doctor so that you get the care that you need.

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.

If Necessary, Ask Another Doctor

If your doctor doesn't display empathy, does not seem to listen, and does not ask questions, you should consider seeing another doctor. People are more likely to share how they feel when their doctor shows concern and genuine empathy.

You might talk to a different doctor or even another type of medical or mental health professional such as a social worker, a counselor in a mental health center, or an ER doctor if it is an emergency.

Trust yourself; you know yourself best. If your doctor dismisses your concerns, keep advocating for yourself to ensure that you get the care that you need.

Manage Expectations

Treatment for depression takes time, so it is important to have realistic expectations. If your doctor prescribes antidepressants, it can take several weeks before you start to notice a difference in how you feel.

Therapy also takes time and you may require several sessions before you start to feel like you are developing new coping skills to manage your symptoms. Just remember that baby steps are still progress in the right direction.


Watch Now: 7 Most Common Types of Depression

What to Expect

Before you talk to your doctor about your depression or anxiety, it can be helpful to know what to expect from the diagnostic process. Your doctor may use a number of different sources of information to learn more about your symptoms and evaluate your condition.

Diagnostic Tests

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

A doctor may also help you rule out other medical conditions—such as vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hormonal changes, and thyroid conditions that may cause symptoms similar to depression.

It's also possible that your depressed feelings could be the result of medication side effects or some other cause. Be honest with a doctor about any medications you are taking.

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

Assessment of Risk Factors

Next, your doctor 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
  • Drug or alcohol use

Questions About Your Symptoms

In addition, your doctor may ask you about what symptoms you are experiencing. Among the symptoms they 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

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Doctor's Observations

Your doctor will supplement all of the information that you provide with their 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 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

Treatment Options

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, they will either opt to treat you using antidepressant medications or they may instead refer you to a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychotherapist (or both).

Psychiatrists have specialized training and expertise in using medications to treat depression and mental illness while psychotherapists specialize in using talk therapy to help you with your depression.

A combination of therapy and medication is often the best way to treat depression.


There are a number of different types of psychotherapy that can be effective in the treatment of depression.

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): This type of therapy is usually a short-term approach (often between 5 and 15 sessions) that focuses on identifying negative thought patterns, replacing them with more helpful ones, and learning new coping strategies.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): Like CBT, this short-term therapy option focuses on identifying problems in relationships and then improving how people relate and communicate with others. 
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): This type of therapy is based on CBT and incorporates aspects of mindfulness practices. It can help people learn to tolerate distress, improve relationships, and manage stressful situations.


Your doctor or psychiatrist may also prescribe some type of medication to treat your depression. Some of the different types of antidepressants that your doctor or psychiatrist may prescribe include:

Antidepressants usually begin to work within two to four weeks, although it may take as long as 12 weeks for them to reach full effectiveness.

Alternative and Complementary Medicine

Complementary medicine may also have beneficial effects on well-being when used in conjunction with psychotherapy and medication. Acupuncture, meditation, light therapy, and herbal supplements are some alternative options that you might consider.

You should always talk to your doctor before you try any type of alternative treatment. In the case of some herbal supplements, for example, you and your doctor need to consider possible drug interactions if you are currently taking or plan on taking antidepressants.


Self-care is an important part of coping with depression. There are a number of things that you can do that will complement your treatment plan. Here is an overview of what you can while getting treatment for depression.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Research has found that there is a complex relationship between sleep and depression. Sleep disturbances are common symptoms of depression, and studies suggest that there may be a reciprocal relationship between them.

Poor sleep increases the risk of depression, and depression then leads to an increased risk of reduced sleep quality.

Exercise Regularly

Research suggests that regular physical activity can be effective in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. In more moderate to severe cases, exercise can be a beneficial complement to medication and therapy.

Eat a Healthy Diet

While researchers are still working to understand the link between diet and depression, there is little doubt that eating well can improve health and well-being. One 2017 study found symptoms of depression decreased when people had nutritional counseling and following a healthier diet for 12 weeks.

There is no specific diet to relieve depression symptoms. However, focusing on a varied diet that includes whole fresh foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables is a good place to start. 

Manage Stress

Chronic stress isn't healthy for anyone, but it's especially harmful if you or someone you love is living with depression. Stress can make it that much harder to maintain healthy habits and positive coping strategies needed to manage your depression symptoms.

Depression can also make it more difficult to control stress. For this reason, it's important to include proven stress management techniques like meditation, guided imagery, and deep breathing in your overall self-care plan.

A Word From Verywell 

While it might feel difficult at first to talk to your doctor about your feelings of depression, having this discussion is an important first step toward improving your well-being. Tell your doctor that you have been feeling down and that you suspect you might be depressed.

Your doctor can then rule out or treat any underlying medical conditions that might be contributing to your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatments. Starting this conversation can help you get the help and support that you need to start feeling better.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Nancy Schimelpfening
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.