What do I need to do?
When you talk to your doctor for any reason, they need to understand what you’re experiencing before they can help. Since there aren’t always physical signs of mental health problems, you’ll need to describe what’s happening and how it affects you.
It’s often helpful to give specific situations instead of general statements. Here are two examples:
- Instead of “I’m too tired,” try, “I sleep for 12 hours and still feel very tired”
- Instead of “I’m not doing well in school, try, “I haven’t been able to concentrate in the last two months. In that time, my grades have dropped from mostly As to mostly Cs”
What will my doctor do?
Your doctor will have a lot of questions for you, like:
- How long have you experienced the problem?
- Do your signs change in different situations?
- Have you experienced similar problems in the past? What happened then?
- What else is going on in your life?
- What does a normal day look like for you?
- Do you experience any other health concerns?
Your doctor may also check out your physical health. The signs of some mental health concerns can be linked to other health problems, so your doctor may look at your overall health.
What happens next?
It often takes a while to get a diagnosis for a mental health problem. Your doctor might ask you to track different signs, like your mood or anxiety levels, for a period of time. This will give a better idea of what you feel over time.
Depending on your experiences, you doctor may ask you to see a mental health specialist. This is called a “referral.” There are different kinds of mental health specialists, but doctors often ask people to see a psychiatrist or psychologist.
- Psychiatrists are doctors with extra training in mental health. They diagnose and treat different kinds of mental health problems. If you have a BC CareCard, you don’t have to pay to see a psychiatrist.
- Psychologists have university degrees and can diagnose mental health concerns. They use different kinds of “talk therapy” or counselling to treat mental health concerns, but they don’t prescribe medication. You usually have to pay to see a psychologist, but some costs may be covered through your school or parent’s workplace.
Tips for managing appointments
Doctors and other health professionals (like psychiatrists and psychologists) will need a lot of information. It can be a lot to deal with at once, especially if you don’t feel well. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your appointments.
Before the appointment
- Think about what you want to say and write it down. If you’re really nervous about your appointment, you can even write your doctor a letter describing your problem and bring it to the appointment. If you have a hard time talking about your experiences, you can hand the doctor your letter.
- Think about asking a friend or family member to come to the appointment with you. This person can help you stay on track and can describe signs they’ve noticed.
- Write down any questions you want the doctor to answer.
During the appointment
- Be honest. Your doctor isn’t there to judge you or make fun of you. They are there to help you. But they can’t do their job properly if they don’t know what’s going on. The questions might seem annoying, but it’s just part of their job.
- Take notes.
- Ask your doctor to write out important information for you.
- Speak up! If you don’t understand something, ask your doctor to explain what they mean.
- Don’t wait until the end of the appointment to bring up your questions.
After the appointment
- Write down important information if you didn’t take notes. This can help you remember what happened and what you need to do next.
- Talk to the receptionist if you need to book follow-up appointments or follow up with referrals.
What doesn’t help?
There is a lot of health information out there, and it’s easy to decide what you think is wrong before you even see your doctor. This can cause problems between you and your doctor for a few reasons:
- Your doctor has a very technical understanding of words like “depression” and “anxiety.” You and your doctor might end up with a different idea of what you’re trying to describe.
- Your doctor may see signs that you haven’t noticed.
- The way you feel is shaped by other things going on in your life. No quiz or website can account for all of your individual factors.
What if my doctor just doesn’t get it?
Unfortunately, a few doctors just don’t understand the problem. Some people dealing with mental health concerns may be told to just “get over it,” or some variation of that statement. It hurts, and it isn’t okay.
If you feel like a doctor’s visit just isn’t working, there are a couple of different options.
You can try to come to an agreement during the appoint:
- Repeat your concerns, and describe what you’re experiencing. Try to be very specific about what you experience and how it affects you. This is one way to try this: “I don’t know if I described my concerns well enough the first time. For the last two months, I’ve been feeling…”
- Ask your doctor how they came to their decision. Try, “Could you please explain that to me?”
If that doesn’t work, you can find a new doctor:
- If more than one doctor work out of your doctor’s office, you may be able to see someone else. Try asking the receptionist if you might be able to see a different doctor.
- In BC, you can find a doctor through an organization called the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia. If you visit their website (www.cpsbc.ca), you can search for doctors in your area that are accepting new patients. You can also call them at 1-800-461-3008.
- You can call a mental health organization [in the resource section] and ask if they can recommend a good place to try.
It can take a bit of time to find a new doctor, so it might be helpful to see if there are any drop-in or walk-in services in your community. Drop-in or walk-in just means that you don’t need an appointment to see someone. To find out what’s available in your community, try asking your school counsellor or family member. You can also find information through the Kids Help Phone, Youth In BC, HealthLink BC, or a local mental health organization.
Do I need my parent’s permission to see a doctor?
In BC, you can make your own health care decisions if your doctor believes that you understand what’s happening and believes that care is in your best interest. You don’t have to be a certain age to see a doctor on your own.
If you need more complicated care, like treatment that lasts a long time, your doctor may suggest that your parents help you with medical decisions. But if your doctor thinks that you can make your own health decisions, they can’t talk to your parents about it without your permission.
Will my doctor tell anyone what I say?
In most cases, no. You doctor follow strict rules and can’t tell others what you say. Your doctor can only talk to other people if your say they can.
There are a couple of situations when your doctor will have to tell someone else. The first is abuse. If your doctor thinks that someone abuses you or thinks that you are in danger, they have to tell someone. The second is risk of hurting yourself or others. Your doctor needs to have good reasons to believe that you will hurt yourself or someone else. In these cases, your doctor will try to talk to you about what’s going on first.
BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information. (2011). Working with your Doctor for Mental Disorders [workbook]. Vancouver, BC: Author. www.heretohelp.bc.ca/skills/managing-mental-disorders/doctor.
College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia. (2009, September). Resource Manual – Care of the Adolescent in Hospital and in Ambulatory Care. Vancouver, BC: Author. www.cpsbc.ca/files/u6/Care-of-the-Adolescent-in-Hospital-and-in-Ambulatory-Care.pdf.
Depression Alliance UK. (n.d.). Working With Your Doctor. London: Depression Alliance UK. www.depressionalliance.org/help-and-information/working-with-your-doctor.php.
Infants Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 223.