Health and happiness is everyone’s ideal, but we all face challenges in life. I recently had a patient who had experienced the death of a loved one a couple years back. She was still struggling - grieving, crying, and wanting to lay around instead of doing the things she used to enjoy.
We talked about it during her clinic visit and ultimately started her on an antidepressant. At her follow-up visit four weeks later, she said, “This is the best medicine. My anxiety is so much better. I have stress but I feel like I can handle it now. I should have been on this (medicine) years ago.”
It’s gratifying to see a patient feel so much better, and it’s great when a medication works the first time.
I share this story to drive home how valuable it can be to talk to your primary care provider -- not just about your physical health, but also your mental health. As a primary care provider, I believe everybody should be able to live their best life. But too often, patients are reluctant to bring up their emotional struggles. Then after we have had a conversation about mood or anxiety, most patients are very relieved to get their concerns out in the open, they will tell me: “I wish I’d brought that up earlier.”
These past two years, COVID has been a stressor for everyone. It is a bizarre time to be living in. A positive side of this pandemic is that it’s brought about more attention to mental health. People are more willing to talk about it - and that’s a good thing.
When Should I Bring Up My Mental Health?
Some forms of depression and anxiety can be linked to stress, trauma, loss and other life events. Research has also found differences – like lower serotonin levels – in the brains of those with clinical depression.
Put simply, there’s often a chemical imbalance in the brain - and that is something we can treat. That’s why a good first step to addressing troubling symptoms is to simply talk with your primary care provider. You can bring this up to your provider anytime, but that’s also why we do a yearly screening for depression and anxiety. Questions we might ask include:
- How are you sleeping?
- Are you having any chest pain?
- Are you worrying more than usual?
- Are you doing things you enjoy?
A primary care provider can help determine whether other physical health conditions need to be ruled out, and what treatment options may help. These include medicines, counseling and lifestyle changes.
A primary care provider can prescribe medication for depression and anxiety. We typically start with a lower dose of the chosen medication and have our patients follow up in a month to see how things are going. Sometimes it takes trying a few different medications to get the right fit. The most important thing to remember is to stay in touch with your provider and let them know if the medication is working or not for you.
Medication isn’t your only option. Primary care providers can refer you to great counselors. Many clinics have licensed mental health providers on staff, and we can generally get people in within a week. We can also make referrals if specialty care is needed.
If you do not want to try medications or counseling, we can recommend healthy lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and tools to manage stress. I always emphasize the importance of winding down in the evening so you can get adequate sleep. Sleep is the foundation of our health and if we aren’t sleeping well then all sorts of problems can arise including anxiety and depression.
Mental health is a huge piece of the puzzle of overall health. That’s why I urge you to let your primary care provider know if you’re struggling. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you haven’t been happy. Know that we want to provide care for you so you can be healthier and happier.
Reach out to a CHI Health provider for more information.