Dear Dr. J

Dear Dr. J: Mental Healthcare?

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Dear Dr. J: Sometimes I have questions about my mental health. I think I’ve been feeling depressed lately, but I’m not sure who to talk to about what to do next. Is that something I can ask my doctor about at a routine checkup? I guess I don’t really know where to start...

Any advice is appreciated, 
Feeling down

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Dear Feeling down,

Acknowledging how you’re feeling and reaching out is a wonderful first step! My short answer is yes, you should absolutely talk to your primary care doctor about how you’re feeling – emotionally and physically. He or she will be able to guide you to the appropriate next steps based on your symptoms and needs.

I’m a big believer that mental healthcare should be an automatic, guaranteed part of primary care, and even in my practice as an OBGYN I’ve made it a priority to work with patients across physical and emotional symptoms (women have especially complex needs) and collaborate with behavioral health specialists, as needed.

Primary care check-ups are so important because they’re proactive, and help catch potential illness and risk factors early, before they end up causing unnecessary pain or financial burdens for you down the line. And because mental health is a core piece of your health as a human, it should also be a core piece of your proactive care!

Your physical health can negatively impact your mental health – for one example, pain can lead to depression and other emotional disorders. The link between chronic pain and depression has been confirmed in numerous studies. And on the flipside, your mental health can also have negative effects on your whole body health down the line. Research shows individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of physical health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and HIV and a 10-25 year reduction in life expectancy.

So, mental health is absolutely in your primary care provider’s realm, and something they should know about to best help you stay healthy and well. Talk to them, ask all your questions, and if there’s something bothering you that you can’t quite identify – maybe your appetite has changed suddenly, or you’ve started taking naps everyday when you didn’t before – let them know. And don’t feel like you have to wait for your next scheduled visit to ask. Call as soon as you start noticing behavioral changes getting in the way of your everyday life and make an appointment. They’ll know the right follow-up questions to understand if these changes are symptomatic of a bigger health concern, and what your best next step is.

That might mean making some lifestyle changes, it might mean your doctor refers you to a behavioral health specialist for talk therapy, or it might mean prescription medication. No matter what, always feel validated in voicing your concerns to your primary care provider. Your brain and your body will thank you.

It sounds like you have a primary care doctor, which is wonderful, but for those who don’t – there are other ways to access a healthcare provider and mental health treatment. Learn more about Alpha’s services here, and start feeling better, sooner.

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