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Five tips before you see a mental health expert

Sep 06 2016
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Getting mental health treatment may be the toughest thing you do in your life, but if you need help, you are not alone. Millions of adults suffer from a mental health problem. About 57 percent of adults with a mental health illness receive no treatment, according to a 2016 report from Mental Health America.

After you’ve made the decision to get some type of treatment – whether that’s from a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist – you’ll need some tips to get yourself ready and prepared for that first meeting/consult.

1. Create a list of symptoms.

“It can be very hard to talk about anxiety and depression,” says Hyong Un, MD, chief psychiatric officer for Aetna Behavioral Health. “There are degrees of symptoms and many may not know the level or degree of what they are going through.”

Un recommends utilizing a screening tool to give yourself (and eventually the behavioral health expert) a better indication of how severe your symptoms might be. Mental Health America, a leading community-based non-profit, has several screening tools.

Knowing what you’re experiencing and having a list of symptoms available for you and a mental health expert will help you get the right kind of help sooner, Un says.

2. Think about your past and your personal life.

Can you remember when your symptoms started? Can you describe how the symptoms you’re experiencing are impacting you on a personal level? How are the symptoms impacting your relationships or work?

It’s critical to ask yourself these questions ahead of your visit. Your answers can provide important insight to what’s going on in your life. Un notes that many people who are experiencing mental health issues but aren’t seeking help don’t realize the impact of the symptoms they are suffering from. Objectively taking stock creates a much clearer picture.

3. Bring relevant medical or mental health records.

If at all possible, Un advises you to bring any records that you have to give the mental health expert the information they need to make a proper diagnosis and provide proper treatment.

If you’ve previously received mental health treatment, it’s critically important to let the mental health expert know about your own past history and/or recurring disorders (treating recurrent disorders is different from new disorders). This is no time to worry about the stigma around seeking mental health treatment, Un says.

4. Consider your family history.

Many people forget to think and talk about their own family history when it comes to mental health issues. “It’s very unusual if a family doesn’t have some type of mental health history, ” Un says. “It’s very important to discuss this with a mental health expert and, if you don’t know already, ask a family member. Mental health disorders tend to follow family lines.”

Asking trusted family members for a brief family history can help give you context for what you may be going through. You may not be alone in your efforts to seek treatment or you may not be the first one in the family to experience the symptoms you have identified.

If you are worried about a friend or family member, learn to recognize the warning signs that it’s time to get involved.

5. Bring a friend or family member to your appointment.

Not everyone may be comfortable with company, but it may be helpful to have a close friend or family member come with you to your first appointment or consultation, Un says. It’s important to know that you don’t have to do this alone. Allowing someone to be there for you may help.

Un says that it may also be helpful to have that same person look over any information you are planning to bring to the consult. A third-party may be invaluable because they may have noticed symptoms that you may not have noticed. And unless you are severely impaired, you do have the right to share personal health information, according to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (more commonly known as HIPAA).

Once you are there…

During your appointment, ask background questions about the mental health expert to learn more about them and to find out how the treatment for you may go. Asking about their particular style or practice may also give you a better insight to them as a person, which may help ease your own anxiety. Remember, if there’s something the mental health expert doesn’t ask you or bring up, do not hesitate to speak up.  You may want to write down a list of questions before you go.

Deciding to make that first call may be the hardest thing you do. But, Un notes, it could be one of the most important.

Aetna Behavioral Health can also provide you with the resources and tools needed to get the help you need.