Whether it is over the phone or in person, seeking help for your mental health can be daunting if you do not know what to expect. This article will give you some useful pointers to empower you to work in collaboration with our psychiatrists on starting your journey to recovery.
1. Come prepared
Before your appointment, it might be useful to take some time to think about the reason for your visit. What symptoms or struggles are impacting you the most? How and when did they start? If possible, keep a diary of your symptoms over a couple of weeks. This is helpful to monitor their frequency, intensity, identify a particular time of day, potential triggers, and things that make you feel better, etc. Sleep patterns, appetite, and weight fluctuations are equally valuable sources of information for your doctor.
It is also useful to gather some details about your childhood from your family, including your birth, your developmental milestones (at what age did you start walking, talking, etc.), your behavior as a child and how you did in school. Ask your relatives if there is a history of mental illness in your family – this may be a sensitive subject but can be relevant as you might be more susceptible to certain conditions.
If you have been referred by another healthcare provider, bring your consultation letters including previous diagnoses, treatments, and medications you have been on. Make sure to bring hospital discharge letters if you had previous admissions or inpatient treatment.
2. What you are likely to talk about
If this is your first contact with a psychiatrist, the appointment is likely to take about an hour.
At first, your healthcare provider may give you the opportunity to talk freely about your presenting complaint. After that, you will be asked a series of more detailed questions on your childhood, education, family, current situation, medical history, etc. They might ask you questions on some of the more intimate aspects of your life, including relationships, sexuality, illicit drugs, or if you ever had trouble with the law. This enables your psychiatrist to make a 360° assessment of your mental health and how it affects you in your daily life. If you feel uncomfortable answering certain questions, do not hesitate to let your doctor know. Do not forget that professionals are bound by confidentiality and none of the information you disclose will be shared with your relatives or the authorities.
Depending on the reason for your visit, they might ask very detailed questions about treatments and therapies you have already tried, including over the counter and herbal or non-conventional treatments – did they help? What side effects did you suffer from? Why did you stop? This will allow your doctor to tailor his approach to give you the best chance of positive outcomes. Finally, give your psychiatrist any information that has not come up in questions, but you believe to be relevant to your circumstances – you know yourself best.
3. Outcome of your consultation
For someone suffering from debilitating symptoms, getting to put a name on your illness might feel therapeutic. It enables you to give an identity to the enemy you are battling, and to connect with other individuals going through the same journey. However, it is important to understand that your provider might not be able to give you a diagnosis at the time of the first consultation. Many diagnostic criteria rely on temporality, i.e., length of time you have been suffering from symptoms, and sometimes a positive diagnosis can only be made retrospectively, many months down the line. Whilst this might be frustrating, it is paramount not to rush as being given a certain label can have long-lasting consequences in terms of treatment you will be offered or will not qualify for.
However, your psychiatrist might still be able to provide you with a working diagnosis or provisional diagnosis to allow treatment planning whilst waiting for all the diagnostic criteria to be filled.
Coming to the end of your consultation, you will make a plan in conjunction with your psychiatrist about how to go forward. You might be offered a combination of therapy, medication, and other treatments such as TMS or novel agents. Remember you are the main actor of your recovery, and the decision on what treatment modality you believe will suit your circumstances is ultimately yours, guided by the advice of your psychiatrist. They will explain in detail the modalities, side effects, and evidence behind every option, to allow you to make an informed decision. You might wish to take more time to read through patient leaflets, do your own research, or talk about it with your next of kin. Other things to discuss are the frequency of follow-ups and monitoring and making a contingency plan for you to refer to in case your mental health deteriorates, such as urgent helplines and contact numbers.
If you have further questions about scheduling with a psychiatrist, another mental health provider, or how to best prepare for your appointment, give us a call at 512-777-2591 and we would be happy to assist you.