Talking to a Family Doctor about Stress, Moods or Problems with Thinking

Points to Consider:

  • Good communication is important on both sides.
  • Talking about personal issues can be embarrassing and uncomfortable.
  • This may the first time you’ve talked about this stuff to anyone. You are being courageous.
  • You may feel rushed, tongue-tied and not sure where to start. You might feel frozen. Just start talking and it will flow out of you.
  • In the past doctors took the lead and the ‘good patient’ followed. Now patients and doctors are more like partners working together.
  • Can you bring a support person?

Preparation is a Good Thing:

Take 5 minutes before the appointment to write a quick list of problems and arrange in the following categories:

  • Thoughts e.g. can’t seem to focus on reading, computer games like I used to, can’t remember details, think that people talk about me and judge me worse than ever, racing thoughts, can’t slow them down or turn them off.
  • Feeling/emotions e.g. don’t care about things like I used to, feel numb most of the time, am sad every day, feel irritated by the smallest things, mood swings that come from nowhere – happy one minute and very upset the next.
  • Activities e.g. can’t get out of bed, failing classes, not studying, missing work, cannot get to sleep, eating all the time, stopped playing basketball, hockey, working out, cannot be alone, only want to be alone, smoking pot to take the edge off every day now, don’t care about my apartment.

Tips for Good Communication:

Sometimes it is easier to say how someone close to you might describe you.

“My mom thinks I sleep too much during the day and I cannot sleep at night. She is worried that I'm down all the time.”

“My roommate tells me that I have nightmares and I worry too much.”

Sometimes it is a challenge to stick to the point once you start talking.

Just when you start talking, the doctor may interrupt your train of thought and ask questions.
Let the doctor know if anything has changed in your life? When they ask how you are doing, they really want to know the details and aren't just making small talk. e.g. my dog died 2 months ago, I was arrested for assault 3 months ago, I broke up with my girlfriend a few weeks ago, I’m thinking of dropping out of school, I got fired a month ago.

Have you been using any street drugs? This is probably not a topic you want to talk to your doctor about. “Will they think I’m worthless because I use drugs?” Doctors have taken an oath to help their patients, the Hippocratic Oath, which binds them to respectful and ethical care of their patients. Some drug use for certain people can cause symptoms that look like mental illness so it’s important to mention it to your doctor.

By law, doctors must keep your information confidential. If a doctor thought there was an imminent and immediate risk to your life or someone else’s because of your symptoms, the doctor would have to break confidentiality to make sure you and others are safe in the moment.
Ask for explanations, or if you are not sure what he or she is talking about, ask them to slow down or clarify what they mean.

“I’m not sure what you are saying”, or “can you tell me that again?” (This is where a support person is helpful.)

Ask for the name of what he/she thinks your condition may be. This can be difficult to hear. Remember you are more than a diagnosis. The diagnosis is part of you at this time, and directs the treatment the doctor will recommend.

Be honest. Talk about the dark feelings, thoughts you’ve been having or things you have been doing. Some people harm themselves as a way to try to feel something. Disclose this to your doctor.

Even if the doctor does not ask, bring up your questions/concerns.

All of this can be very intimidating or shake confidence that may already be low. Chances are you may feel relieved that you have talked to someone.

Other Questions to Ask:

  • When should I come back?
  • What are the most important things I can do to feel better
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What is the medicine designed to do?
  • How fast will it work?
  • What are some possible side effects?

The doctor may not realize or acknowledge the incredible effort and courage it took for you to reach out today. Talking with a counsellor is another healthy way to restore the balance in your life.

Information provided by thanks Dr. Margaret DeCorte, Ph. D., C. Psych. and her youth crew at Royal Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, ON