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How Can I Get My Doctor to Take Me Seriously?

October 13, 2011 Natasha Tracy

Doctors should take every patient seriously, but they don't. How can you get your doctor to take you seriously? Lets start with this recent comment (edited for length):

I have a masters degree in pharmaceutical science and have worked with clinical research for 11 years . . . I feel that maybe I get to close to be on the "same level" as my psychiatrist. . . I am afraid my doctor might think that I have better control of my bipolar "state" than I have. I do not have control . . . I want her to think of me as THE patient. But on the other hand I do want to be involved and discuss treatments etc. . . I think that she does not realize how bad I am right now. No one does. I am that happy, funny outgoing guy Johan. They just do not look behind the mask . . . It is strange that no one takes it seriously when you say you have suicidal thoughts. Mutilation . . . My doctor knows that I am depressed. But why does she not realize how bad it is?

So, how do you get your doctor to take your seriously when you often appear alright to your doctor? Can your intellect actually do you a disservice?

The Problem with Being a High-Functioning Patient

How do you get your doctor to take you seriously? It's a problem for many high-functioning individuals with a keen intellect. This is what you need to do. The problem Johan is having is basically that he is high-functioning in front of his doctor and so his doctor is not seeing his illness as being as severe as the illness is in those who cannot function in public. And this is compounded by the fact that Johan is very educated in pharmaceuticals and can speak similarly to a medical colleague.

I know the feeling.

In one respect, what the doctor is doing makes sense. Logically, someone who can hold down an intellectual, high-level conversation is, functionally, doing better than someone who can only answer yes or no to direct questions. However, functionality is not the only measure of pain or mental illness.

In my opinion, the doctor is falling into a trap I personally witness a lot: They judge your illness based on the illness of others. This may work much of the time but may not be reasonable for you.

Being High-Functioning Doesn't Mean You're Not Sick

High-functioning people die all the time from mental illness. Remember, most people are shocked when someone takes their own life and that's because the person was "passing" to friends and family as a well person. Not everyone wears their wounds outside. Some people simply have better acting skills than others. It doesn't mean they're not in pain, it doesn't mean they aren't sick, it doesn't mean they aren't in danger and it doesn't mean they shouldn't be taken seriously.

Talking to a Doctor like a Colleague

And yes, being highly educated, intellectual and composed in a doctor's appointment can make this worse. You are acting for your doctor, like you act for others. And while that may be comfortable, it really doesn't help you.

(Of course, in saying that, I would like to think psychiatric professionals would be able to read a person well enough to know when they are acting; but no one is perfect, I suppose.)

How to Be Taken Seriously While Still Being Part of the Process

It's important that whatever your concerns and needs are, they be taken seriously. No one has the right to dismiss your feelings. But you have to present those feelings to a doctor in real way. You can't expect them to see through your act. You need to ask for the help you need. And I understand if you feel like you are asking, but acting just doesn't help your cause.

Consider for a moment that there are two parts of any doctor's appointment.

  1. Part one - you discuss how you are doing emotionally
  2. Part two - you discuss treatment options

Part one is about feelings and part two is about intellect. Try to separate these in your mind and make sure each appointment contains both parts. And while you're expressing your feelings, try to abandon intellect for a little while. And then, pick the intellect back up, if you choose, to speak more clinically with the doctor.

And my biggest advice is the simplest - if you feel you are not being taken seriously - say so!

Writing a comment on a blog is a good place to reach out, but a much better place is in your doctor's office. I know how scary it can be to say something like that to a doctor, but that is how we get what we need - by asking for it. Talk about your concerns. Express the fact that you feel desperate and out of control and that you feel the doctor isn't taking that into consideration.

Your doctor cannot fix what they don't know is broken.

I do understand how hard this is for a patient. But being a patient is hard work.

And the more you truly express what you're really thinking, the easier it will become and the more your doctor will get to know, and help, you. The real you.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, October 13). How Can I Get My Doctor to Take Me Seriously?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, February 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/10/how-can-i-get-my-doctor-to-take-me-seriously



Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Robyn
July, 30 2017 at 4:57 am

Hey, so I may need advice. Lately, I have been having many problems with allergies, and my antihistamines have stopped working all together since my body has become resistan to them. Point is, my doctor doesn't think so. Because I'm rather young, my doctor assumes that I'm overreacting over everything and it's not affecting me at all. So I'm allergic to dust mites(among many other things), and I've mentioned to my doctor that I'd like to get a sort of shot to combat his allergies(my sister's boyfriend got it, and it's helped him a lot), though I'm not sure whether the term I'm using is correct. Point it, I'm suffering a lot right now from many different things, though my allergies are one of the worst things. Any advice to get my doctor to take me seriously and not write me off as just an attention seeking teenager?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
August, 1 2017 at 8:14 am

Hi Robyn,
My solution to this type of problem is always rooted in logic. I recommend documenting your symptoms every day so that when you sit in front of the doctor you have a record of the issue. It's much harder for him not to take your seriously when you take the situation so seriously.
- Natasha Tracy

Lianne Jones
May, 27 2014 at 6:10 am

Hi. Im struggling. From adolescence I have suffered depression. Family said I was unsettled, wouldn't stick at anything. In and out of relationships, in and out of jobs. High and low, sometimes fine. Had no close friends, frequent mood swings and thoughts of suicide. Im 33 now, married with a daughter of 5. I struggle now more than ever. Tried to take my own life 2 days ago. Sick of everything. Had mental health assessment and they said im not bipolar and to go back on sertraline.. phsychologist the other day say I read to much on bipolar and that I believe I have it, and that my mood swings are far to frequent to be bipolar...
They do not live with me, and do not see me day to day so how can they make judgment.
I cannot stand the ups and downs, especially in confidence. I get paranoid. Sometimes no energy sometimes too much.i can sleep for 16-18 hours a day and other days I cannot relax or sleep more than 2 hours. Concentration is diabolical.
A rmn I worked with once asked why I was so hyper and asked if I was bipolar.
Im losing faith and am reaching out for help

judy
July, 12 2013 at 10:20 am

Rah,
Such a tough spot to be in. I suggest you educate yourself. I thought I knew all I needed to know about mental illness (from school), but the truth is what you learn as an undergraduate only scratches the surface. Like all disciplines, new knowledge constantly emerges, so those in the field always have to keep themselves current and informed (at least I hope they do).
But, this is not always the case. When I was first diagnosed, I was lucky enough to have a book on bipolar recommended to me, and one of the first things the author suggested is to educate yourself - know the symptoms and understand its nuances - especially in yourself. I would say this is important in any wellness plan.
As far as "faking it", I think most people do this because they know something is not right but aren't sure what it could be.
And finally, even highly trained medical doctors have difficulty seeing something wrong in themselves. For instance, they can easily spot diabetic symptoms in others, but not in themselves. I suppose this applies to the psychiatric field also.

Rah
July, 12 2013 at 2:15 am

Since I was about 16, I have been experiencing what appear to be bipolar like moods/experiences and throughout the years they have been gradually escalating.
Unfortunately, because I work as a professional within Mental Health and my brother has Schizoaffective Disorder and my Uncle has Bipolar type 1 disorder, people seem not to take me seriously, assuming that I'm simply mimicking those around me, that I am competing for attention, that I am just over-informed, or that my experiences are simply symptoms of stress.
Those within my family whom have mental health disorders are all very high functioning individuals and have all experienced difficulties in getting health professionals to take them seriously. I also tend to be quite high functioning, which I am grateful for, but It is also proving to be an obstacle for me in getting a diagnosis.
I know the difficulties attached to being labelled with a diagnosis, but I am trying to seek help and get a diagnosis simply because I am at my wits end and things are escalating out of my control and I CAN'T COPE; basically I'm asking for help as I'm getting to a stage where I quite desperately NEED it in order to survive. But no professionals will listen to me!
Family and friends close to me (people who know me very well) are all able to recognise that I am experiencing some kind of Bipolar-like moods and are concerned at how things have recently been progressing for me. The person I have been dating for a few months has also started expressing some concerns about me and even some of the patients I work with have started picking up on my states and questioning me about my behaviour and the symptoms that they're noticing me exhibit (I'm quite concerned about this as I'm supposed to be in a caring roll, not my patients, and I'm not sure what to tell them when they notice and ask me about it. I don't want my states to jeopardise my work).
Unfortunately each appointment I have with a professional I happen to be in a relatively stable (or managed) state and so they are not able to see me when I am unwell.
Recently it's actually been my mania-like states that have been a problem/concern for me. I get insomnia, become restless, shake, twitch and have an uncontrollable tremor, I get a stutter (which is a new development), my thoughts race out of control and so fast and so intense that I am unable to concentrate, I speak fast, I become hyper sociable, I become more sexual, I become more creative (which is only great when I'm able to function with it in order to express it) I become reckless, I spend loads (very out of character for me), colours and sensations become super enhanced for me, everything seems to have meaning to me, I notice everything around me and am unable to switch off all the external stimuli that I can't help taking onboard all at once, I become irritable, people frustrate me, my thoughts argue with themselves, I become paranoid about always thinking that people are looking at me, I get 'stuck' counting "1, 2, 3, 4" in my head and can never get past 4, and sometimes it escalates so out of control and I become so overwhelmed that (whilst still in a mania state) I become hysterically tearfull, and upset and despairing at my overwhelmed state, feeling I'm at breaking point. I've also had suicidal thoughts at times, and at others feeling the need to self harm (NOT suicidally) again as a coping mechanism (I used to self harm shortly after by Bipolar-like moods first started when I was around 16).
NOBODY is listening to me and I just feel so lost and overwhelmed. I don't know what to do.

Millie
December, 22 2012 at 5:25 pm

"See through your act"
What an outright horrible thing to say to people who are sick!

Natasha Tracy
June, 7 2012 at 1:12 pm

Hi Patricia,
Yes, many people with mental illness also have substance abuse issues. I wouldn't say "most" but many do as, yes, they are trying to self-medicate.
- Natasha

Patricia Bosley
June, 7 2012 at 12:34 pm

I am a bipolar patient who, thank God, has an excellent psychatrist. He listens and changes my medication accordingly. I did however, have to go through many of them to find him. I think that if you are not getting the results you want that you have to be willing to make a change and find a doctor who is sensitive to your needs.No matter how many time you have to change.
I am curious though...does any one also have a problem with alcholism? I am also and alcholic and was told be my doctor that most bipolar patients are as we are trying to medicate. Feed back would be appreciated. Thanks

Natasha Tracy
March, 31 2012 at 5:38 am

Hi Sarah,
I obviously understand your problem. My recommendation is just to be as open as you possibly can about your functional problems. It's easy for some people to come across "functional" and be completely falling apart at home. But if you can truly express your experiences at home, they may be able to better help you.
You are not low priority. You deserve help too. You just might need a different kind of help.
And for your self-generated progress - I say, horray! You're doing a great job.
- Natasha

Sarah
March, 26 2012 at 11:56 pm

I am very high -functioning with bipolar but I am only at about 80% of premordbid functioning on a good day. This means that I can't practice in my profession, I can't cope with too much stress, I can't even cook properly for myself. Every day is a struggle. And yet, since I come into the clinic articulate and well presented, with full insight, I have doctors, social workers and professionals galore thinking I am either 'low priority' or ''not much we can do'. My progress these days has to be entirely self-generated. It is lonely at the top of the mountain.
For Nancy - I've noticed that the work culture of many mental health institutions is 'them' and 'us'. Perhaps the workers can only cope with the mentally ill if they think it could never happen to them. When üs" becomes 'them' it is too scary to contemplate. How you handle this situation may affect the culture of the workplace. Good luck!

Natasha Tracy
March, 26 2012 at 6:47 pm

Hi Nancy,
I'm sorry to hear people aren't taking your mental wellness as seriously as they should, and certainly suggesting that you're faking is wildly inappropriate.
While, I'm sure, being confronted with the accusation of "faking" would be distressing, are you able to respond to this idea? Are you able to express that you are hurting and sick and deserve to be treated with the same kindness and respect that any other patient deserves?
Maybe there is a culture where you are where the staff needs to emotionally separate from the patients in order to give good care and so to feel like one of "them" was a patient, creates an internal dissonance for them and they are uncomfortable.
But really there is nothing to be uncomfortable about. I would say it's just a matter of education. You are just a person who happens to have a problem. You're real. Your feels are real and your need for help is real.
If you're not finding the help you need there, I recommend you contact another agency for help. Try one of the helplines listed here: http://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referr…
I hope that helps.
- Natasha Tracy

NANCY MYERS
March, 26 2012 at 5:42 pm

I WORK FOR A MENTAL HOSPITAL BUT I AM BIPOLAR WHEN I AM DEPRESSED OR WHEN I AM CUTTING EVERYONE THINKS I AM FAKING BECAUSE WE SEE SO MUCH. THAT IT WOULD BE EASY TO FAKE IT WE KNOW WHAT TO DO AND HOW TO DO ALL OF IT JUST TO GET OUT OF WORK BUT FOR ME I AM HURTING AND NOONE SEE THAT HELP

Jeff
November, 16 2011 at 10:16 am

I'd like to echo in on having a supporter or advocate go to appointments with you. If you are comfortable with having someone else at your doctor/therapist, then I recommend you take a trusted friend/relative. I'd even take a partner if I felt okay with them knowing the inner parts of my mind.
I have found the added support from an advocate/supporter improves my communication with the mental health provider. Often my advocate will remember important information I forgot, such as how rotten I felt two weeks ago. Also, as far as faking it for a doctor, it is much harder to put on an act or fake things of someone who knows you is observing.

Dr Pradeep K Chadha
October, 17 2011 at 8:23 am

When a psychiatrist assesses a patient, the 'objective' view of the doctor makes them decide about the diagnosis, the severity of the condition and the treatment needed. This, mind you, is an 'objective' view. The functionality of the individual is a criteria widely used to assess the severity of the problem. The more dysfunctional a person is the more severe is supposed to be the problem. Yes, a patient can fool a psychiatrist into believing that the severity of the condition is more or less than they are suffering. It becomes important then for the patient to be honest with the doctor to let them know how they feel and also for the doctor to listen to the patient. As far as treatment is concerned, it needs to be decided by mutual consultation between the patient and the doctor. Sometimes medication is more important than psychotherapy especially when you are dealing with someone who is suicidal and needs to be made to feel safe. Only when a patient gets settled with medication would psychotherapy be usually started.

Dr Smita Pandey
October, 17 2011 at 6:59 am

This may be really true. If you are not that impaired functionally and still you are having severe depression, many a times doctors could not judge properly and do not foresee its results. Many a times being a colleague or being in the same profession where you are dealing with the patients as such your mental illness is not taken that seriously. Many a times it is thought that you would be able to manage when actually you need more help and support!
For the simple reason that you are in the field of clinical research and you know the symptoms and have handled such patients well in the past does not mean that you would be able to do the same for yourself and doctors must be careful in handling such cases. Here in this case, the patient could be more knowledgeful about "symptoms" and its "treatment" but he/she could not be able to "implement" on himself or herself in the same manner. Intensity of feelings of sadness must be checked and information of the disease must not be taken as a criteria for the patient.
Moreover, the patient must be given accurate attention and time to talk out, even though he/she knows about his or her problem as that way the patient would have a kind of ab-reaction with the psychiatrist.
Thirdly, depression is a therapy where you judge one's feelings and thoughts by his or her thoughts. Hence, talking to a person would definitely increase the chances of knowing the thoughts of the patient whereby it would be easier to judge the patient the intensity and depth of her emotions.
Finally, I would say the Cognitive behavioral Interventions must be provided to the patient having suicidal ideations or plans, besides supportive therapy and other therapies.

Gretchen
October, 16 2011 at 2:04 pm

My doctors believe me. I am also considered, "High Functioning" Other people do not. So when I tell them, so that my
'friends' and family are aware of how badly I am hurting/feeling suicidal/isolated, I am accused of spending too much time thinking, feeling sorry for myself, or being self-centered. Ummmm...... WHY DID I BOTHER TELLING THEM??? So now I am isolating myself from everyone. This doesnt help matters, but at least Im not sticking my nose back out to get punched.

Natasha Tracy
October, 14 2011 at 2:01 pm

Hi Jake,
Good on your for being forthright with your doctor. That's a tough thing to do but worth it, I think.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
October, 14 2011 at 2:00 pm

Hi Mercurial,
Glad I could be your reminder. And you have a good point, having another advocate in your corner is never a bad thing. Sometimes others can say the things about us we need said but just can't say ourselves.
- Natasha

I'm Bipolar-Broken But Not Forgotten
October, 14 2011 at 1:59 pm

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I'm Bipolar-Broken But Not Forgotten
October, 14 2011 at 1:57 pm

Thank-you

I'm Bipolar-Broken But Not Forgotten
October, 14 2011 at 1:56 pm

I am administrator of page an wud like to share important articles from ur site. Thank-you

Jake
October, 13 2011 at 1:59 pm

I called my family Doctor out on his attitude. I said he rushed me and I was as a result not receiving proper medical care(in my opinion). Fortunately he is a truly compassionate guy and made adjustments for me.
I have also gone to the Doctor with an advocate in the past, something I reccomend if you have trouble communicating your concerns.

Mercurial
October, 13 2011 at 10:10 am

I have repeatedly found this to be an issue with my doctors...and I've gone through quite a bit of them. At least twice, in the past, I have called my Mother in a suicidal state to tell her that my doctor won't fill my medication or won't respond to requests to transfer it or various issues. SHE has been the one to advocate for me, because otherwise I have this automatic issue of putting on the "hey, I'm just fine and wondering about...? No? Okay, no problem. Sure, I understand." ...while I'm dismissed by my pharmacist, by my doctor, by my psychiatrist, etc. Thank you for this important reminder to be my TRUE self and be honest when I feel I'm not truly being listened to!

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