Questions for Your Mental Health Doctor
When discussing your mental health concerns, psychiatric diagnosis, or medication treatment, here are questions to ask your doctor or therapist.
If you are seeing your mental health doctor about a mental illness, you may feel overwhelmed and even embarrassed. Don't be. Mental disorders are common and widespread. The National Mental Health Association estimates that 54 million Americans suffer from some form of mental illness in any given year. (read: Mental Health Statistics: You Are Definitely Not Alone)
Symptoms of a mental illness may include changes in mood, personality, behaviors, personal habits and/or social withdrawal. Some of the most common mental health disorders are depression, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disorder), dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders.
Mental illnesses may be caused by a reaction to trauma, environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances or a combination of these. With proper care and mental health treatment many people learn to cope or recover from a mental illness or emotional disorder. (Brain Disorders: Mental Disorders vs. Behavioral Disorders) To increase the chance that treatment works, patients and their families should actively participate in their care and treatment. This means understanding your condition, taking an active role in your care and recovery, and asking questions. Remember, there is no such thing as a "dumb" question when it comes to your mental health.
The answer to some of your questions may help you and your doctor choose the treatment that is best for you. Treatment may include mental health counseling (psychotherapy) and/or mental helath medication. Mental health disorders respond well to treatment. Talk to your doctor, and learn as much as you can about your condition and its treatments.
Take this list of questions with you the next time you go to see your doctor, and write down the answers for future reference.
Questions About Your Mental Health Diagnosis
- What is my mental illness diagnosis? Can you explain it in simple language that I can understand?
- What are the possible causes of my mental illness?
- What is the prescribed treatment? What are the benefits and risks?
- Is this the most successful treatment available? Are there other treatments available? (How To Tell If A Mental Health Treatment Really Works)
- How soon should treatment start? How long will it last?
- What are my options if this treatment fails?
- Do I need a follow-up visit?
Before you get a mental health drug prescription, make sure your doctor knows:
- Your past medical history.
- Other medications being taken.
- Anticipated life changes such as planning to have a baby.
- Past experience with medication or food side effects.
- If you have diabetes, kidney, liver or heart disease.
- If you are on a special diet or taking any supplements.
- If you smoke or drink alcohol.
Mental Health Medication Questions
There are basic categories for mental health medications based on the symptoms for which they are primarily used; antipsychotic, antimanic, antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. Find out what kind of medication your doctor is recommending and what to expect. Just in case your doctor doesn't have much time, choose the five most important questions to ask first. You can find the usage, dosage and side-effects of your psychiatric medications here.
- What is the name of the medication, and what is it supposed to do?
- What are the chances of getting better with this treatment?
- How will I know if the medicine is working or not working?
- How and when do I take it, and when do I stop taking it?
- How long will I have to take the medicine?
- Can I take this medication if I am planning on having a baby soon?
- What foods, drinks, other medications or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
- Is there any written information available about the medication?
- What are the side effects, and what should I do if they occur?
- Will side effects change as I continue to take the medication?
- Will this medication affect my sleep, ability to drive or operate equipment, sex life, appetite, etc.?
- How will the medication interact with other medication I am already taking?
- What should I do if I miss a dose? Can I have beer, wine or other alcoholic drinks?
Make sure your medicine is right for you
Many medications for mental health problems take four to six weeks to bring results, although some people see results very quickly. Take your medicine as recommended, even when you begin to feel better. It is important to continue to take the medicine to keep feeling well.
If you want to stop your medication for some reason, talk to your doctor before you do. You and your doctor will work together to decide if it is the right time to stop treatment, to stick with your medication or to change medications. If you and your doctor decide to end medication treatment, he or she will tell you the safest way to discontinue medication because many mental health medications must be tapered off. (read: Getting Off Antidepressants: Antidepressant Discontinuation)
However, don't wait too long to talk to your doctor if you are not feeling better. Some people respond differently to different mental health medications. If you are not getting relief from symptoms with your treatment, a different medication may be needed.
To make sure your medicine is right for you, tell your health care provider how the medicine is working. One way to know how the medicine is working is to keep a record of your symptoms. If the medicine is not working, (your symptoms are getting worse or not getting better), your doctor may recommend a blood test to see whether you are getting the right dosage.
There are many things that your doctor can do if the medicine is not working:
- Adjust the dose.
- Change the medicine.
- Add psychotherapy.
- Add a medicine.
Source: National Mental Health Association
Last Updated: 28 December 2015
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD