How to Talk to Your Doctor About Depression

Man talking about depression with his doctor.

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Are you wondering how to talk to your doctor about depression? If you’ve been experiencing symptoms such as low mood, loss of interest in activities, or feeling hopeless, you might be wondering if it’s worth speaking to your doctor. On the other hand, it’s possible that you are worried your doctor will dismiss your symptoms or that you might be imagining the whole thing.

The unfortunate part of depression is that the illness itself can make it hard for you to reach out for help. The depressed mind feels as though everything is hopeless and that nothing will help, so it can be really hard to believe that going to the doctor will make a difference. In fact, you might even be considering talking to your doctor at the urging of someone else who is concerned for you.

Don’t let your depression tell you that all is lost. Talking to your doctor could be the first step toward recovery. Whatever your reason for wanting to speak to your doctor, there are certain things you can do beforehand to ensure that it goes more smoothly. 

Choosing the Right Doctor

The first thing you will want to do is to make sure that you are choosing the right doctor with whom to speak. While it might make sense to make an appointment with your family doctor or general practitioner, this might not always be the case.

If you do not see this doctor often or feel embarrassed to talk to this doctor, but there is another doctor whom you do see often (e.g., a gynecologist, oncologist, cardiologist), it might make more sense to bring it up during one of your regular appointments with them. If for some reason you end up going to the emergency department, then the ER doctor there will be able to help you.

If none of these seem to be an option, you could also consider going directly to a mental health professional; however, you will likely need to work backwards and get a referral from your doctor at that point.

Mental health professionals to approach would include a social worker, counselor, psychologist, psychotherapist, registered nurse, or psychiatrist. You might find these professionals working in private practice or through a community health center, outpatient mental health clinic, employee assistance program, or family/social services agency.

Making the Appointment

If you feel uncomfortable calling to make an appointment, you could ask a trusted family member or friend to call on your behalf. Otherwise, you could call and say that you want to make an appointment to discuss a mental health issue.

If this still feels too far out of your comfort zone, you could bring up the issue during an appointment for something else (note that your doctor may ask you to make a separate appointment).

Paying for the Visit

If you are concerned about how to pay for the visit or do not have medical insurance, see if you can make an appointment through a community medical or mental health center.

Educating Yourself

Before you meet with your doctor, it’s best to educate yourself as much as you can about the symptoms of depression and criteria for a diagnosis of depression, and potential treatment options. This will help you understand your doctor’s recommendations as well as ask questions.

Symptoms of Depression

Below are the various symptoms of depression. If you feel you may be depressed, you likely are experiencing at least a few of the symptoms on this list. A diagnosis of depression requires that a certain number of criteria are met over a specific time frame.

  • Feeling helpless or hopeless about the future
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Becoming easily irritated
  • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Not wanting to spend time with family or friends
  • Changes in your sleep (too much or too little)
  • Appetite changes (eating more or eating less)
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs
  • Physical/body complaints
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Constant feelings of sadness
  • Feeling empty
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • Problems with making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Feeling restless or agitated

Types of Treatment for Depression

It will also be helpful to learn about the different types of treatment that you may be offered for depression. A list of potential treatments is below.

Preparing for the Appointment

After you’ve done some research to learn more about the symptoms of depression and potential treatments, you’ll want to do some preparation for your appointment. While it may feel easier not to think about it at all, doing a bit of preparation will make things go smoother for both you and your doctor.

Bringing Someone With You

First, you’ll want to decide whether to go alone or bring someone with you. Is there a family member, friend, religious leader, or other community member who would make a good partner during your appointment? If so, it might make sense to ask that person to go with you.

The benefits of bringing someone with you include having someone there to speak if you have trouble remembering things or tend to “freeze” up as well as having a second set of ears (and a notetaker) if you feel as though you will be overwhelmed during the appointment.

Setting a Goal

Next, you’ll want to set a goal for your appointment. While it might be tempting to want to walk away with a diagnosis and prescription or treatment plan, more than likely you will be setting yourself up to be disappointed if this is your expectation. 

Instead, consider setting a reasonable goal for the appointment such as sharing your symptoms with your doctor, asking about next steps, or assessing potential causes other than depression. You might also learn about referral options and find out about community resources. 

What to Bring

Again, being prepared and bringing certain things with you will help a great deal. If you can prepare this list of items ahead of time, it will help your doctor understand your situation more quickly and more completely than if you were to try and verbally describe the situation only.

  • Family history of depression (ask your parents and siblings for this information)
  • List of recent life changes or stressors (e.g., financial stress, relationship problems, unemployment, chronic pain, trauma or abuse)
  • List of your symptoms
  • Daily mood journal for at least two weeks (rate your mood each day on a scale from 1 to 10)
  • A journal tracking other things like hours of sleep and time to bed, appetite, motivation level, alcohol use, daily stressors, etc.
  • List of all medications you are currently taking (prescription and over-the-counter)
  • List of all supplements you are currently taking 
  • Daily medication/supplement log for two weeks (record everything you take)
  • Medications and supplements (bring the physical items to your appointment)

During the Appointment

Now that you’ve done some research and prepared for your appointment, it’s time to discuss and anticipate what might happen during your appointment. Some of the things your doctor might discuss include what you have been experiencing, ruling out other causes of your symptoms, tests that might be administered, and next steps. Let’s consider each of these separately below.

Sharing Your Symptoms

How you talk to your doctor about your symptoms will depend on the doctor with whom you have chosen to speak. If you have made an appointment with your family doctor, start off by saying that you have not been feeling like yourself and you are worried that you might be depressed.

Be honest about your symptoms and don’t minimize what you are experiencing. Your doctor is not a mind reader and must make decisions based on what you say.

Again, if you are worried about your ability to communicate, bring someone with you and be sure to bring along a complete medical history with tracking logs (for longer than two weeks if possible).

When talking about your symptoms, be direct rather than ambiguous:

  • Instead of saying “I feel tired,” say “I can’t get out of bed most days and I’m late for work. It’s affecting my job.”
  • Instead of saying, “I can’t concentrate or get things done,” say “The dishes are piled on my counters and I’m concerned about it being unsanitary,” or “I haven’t been paying bills on time and bill collectors keep calling me.”

When you give specific details about how your symptoms are affecting your daily life, that gives your doctor a clearer picture of how depression may be impacting your functioning. Given that impact on daily functioning is one of the criteria for diagnosing depression, it is important to make this very clear.

Share the list of symptoms that you prepared along with your tracking logs so that your doctor can have a full picture of what is going on in your life. This will save time and make sure that you haven’t missed anything important to discuss.

Ruling Out Other Causes

After you share your symptoms, it is likely that your doctor will want to rule out other potential causes of how you are feeling before jumping to a diagnosis of depression. There are various other potential causes of depression symptoms including the following:

While there is no medical lab test for depression, your doctor will likely do a thorough physical check-up including a physical exam and blood tests. This is an important first step before prescribing medication or making a referral to a mental health professional.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

During your appointment, you’ll also want to ask questions to clarify things that you don’t understand. In order to prepare for your appointment, below is a list of questions that you may want to consider asking depending on how the appointment goes.

  • Is it possible that my symptoms are being caused by some other underlying condition?
  • How long will it take before I start to feel better?
  • What course of treatment do you recommend?
  • What types of therapy do you recomend?
  • What types of medication do you recommend? What are the benefits and drawbacks to each?
  • How long will I be taking medication? How can I tell if it’s working? What should I do if I miss a dose? What do I do if I don’t like how it makes me feel?
  • Are there complementary therapies I could use to manage my symptoms?
  • Are there lifestyle changes I can make to help manage depression?
  • When should I come back for a follow-up appointment?
  • When will I hear about a referral?
  • What should I do if I find myself in a crisis?

After Your Appointment

Once your first appointment is complete, there are certain things you will want to do rather than simply waiting for your doctor to take the lead. If you feel that you will have trouble with these, try enlisting the help of someone close to you to keep you on track.

  • Make a follow-up appointment if your doctor is prescribing medication
  • Let your doctor know if you experience side effects
  • Advocate for yourself and to ensure that your treatment providers are communicating with each other (if you are seeing more than one)
  • Investigate complementary and/or alternative therapies recommended by your doctor

What to Do If You Are in Crisis

If you find yourself in a mental health crisis at any point in time, it’s important to reach out for help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a trained counselor. If you feel that you or someone else is in immediate danger, then you should call 911 or the emergency number where you live.

A Word From Verywell

Although it might feel scary asking for help for depression, this is an important first step that you are taking toward feeling better. There is no shame in reaching out for help, and most doctors are used to hearing about these types of symptoms. The sooner that you can speak to someone, the quicker you will be on the road to recovery.

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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Talk with Your Doctor About Depression.