Doctor’s Appointments and Mental Health

Thought I’d get back into the swing with a bit of a rant 🙂

(Obligatory, PC preface: I know, I know…at least I have healthcare. But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.)

I have been under the weather for a few weeks, nothing serious but just enough to interfere with everyday life. Unfortunately, this also means I’ve made three visits to the doctor’s office since February. This is indeed a dismal turn of events as I, like most people, do not enjoy going to the doctor. It’s certainly not my idea of a good time.

My disdain for medical appointments in general began several years ago. In my opinion, it seems our medical professionals have become increasingly uninterested in listening to their patients’ symptoms even after subjecting those patients to a seemingly endless wait in a cold exam room after which they receive, if they’re lucky, 5-10 minutes to share their current medical concerns.

My disdain increased when I made the mistake of providing an honest answer to that seemingly innocuous question, “Do you, or have you ever, experience(d) symptoms of depression/anxiety?” It seems the moment I answered “yes,” I was systematically pigeonholed into a category of patient whose every symptom is now attributed to these mental maladies.  I understand that depression, anxiety, and stress can have seriously detrimental affects on the body, but not all my ailments should be treated as such. However, this seems to be a continuing trend.

My latest medical visit was related to a new wave of headaches I began experiencing over the last several weeks. They differed from previous headaches I’ve experienced so, I thought, best to get things checked out.  After explaining to the nurse practitioner that I was not anxious or depressed, I went on to describe the headaches. The appointment ended with a prescription for muscle relaxers and the conclusion that these were tension headaches. I was told there was no need to perform a CT scan as it would probably be a waste of money at this time.  I accepted the diagnosis as she is the professional, but I left the appointment wondering if it may have gone differently had I been someone else, someone who had never admitted to experiencing depression and anxiety in the first place.  Just to be clear, I did not walk into my appointment thinking, “Oh my gosh! It’s a tumor!” I simply wanted someone to take my concerns seriously.  I did think that might involve some sort of test to confirm everything was copacetic in the old noggin, but I was wrong.  I left the appointment feeling completely dismissed.

It is an interesting juxtaposition that in the process of raising awareness and becoming more accepting of mental illness, we have created another problem – that dangerous tendency for medical professionals to develop tunnel vision when treating patients who suffer from depression, anxiety, stress, etc. If they understood how difficult it is for many of us to tick “yes” to that particular question, knowing we stand a good chance of being “marked” from that point forward,  maybe they would be a bit more understanding and less inclined to blame our medical concerns on the mental health issues with which we struggle.

I would also appreciate some credit for knowing my own body – for knowing when it is behaving normally and when it is not. I have lived in this body for a long time.  I know the difference between fatigue caused by a depressive episode and fatigue derived from something other than depression.  I know the difference between the churning, nervous stomach caused by anxiety and stomach issues that are perhaps the result of another medical problem.  I don’t understand why physicians don’t get that.

When I recognize my body is reacting to external factors such as stress or anxiety, I do not visit the doctor. It’s a waste of my time and theirs.  I know these symptoms will typically disappear once I work through whatever issue may be causing them, and I will find more relief from my counselor rather than the general practitioner.  This means that when I do show up at the GP’s because I’m not feeling well, it really is BECAUSE I’M NOT FEELING WELL! (Apologies for being shouty.)

I’m sure not all physicians are guilty of pigeonholing their patients, but because of my experiences, I am seriously considering checking “no” whenever I complete my next patient information form.  No one should reach that point, but that’s where I am. We are cautioned over and over to be honest and open with our doctors; however, if being honest means you will then not be taken seriously, I’m not sure it’s worth the risk.

I have since developed the habit of starting most of my appointments with, “I am not depressed or anxious,” but it still doesn’t seem to register. And, in my opinion, I shouldn’t have to start an appointment by describing how I am NOT feeling in order to get someone to pay attention to how I AM feeling.


Question(s) of the day: Have you ever felt as though your doctor hasn’t taken you seriously?  Have you found a successful way of dealing with such issues?


I'm all ears...or eyes I guess??

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