How to Stand Up to Your Doctor. Five Ways to Self- Advocate During a Mental Health Appointment.

Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

Advocating for yourself during a mental health appointment can be daunting task for many. However, in order to avoid medical error and have an effective partnership with your doctor, it is crucial that you are clear about your history, symptoms, goals and expected outcomes.

Five Ways to Ensure You Get the Right Treatment:

  1. Research your condition. 
  2. Prepare a list for medical appointments. (click here for ready to use list template)
  3. Take an active role in your own care.
  4. Take your time. 
  5. If your doctor does not respond to points 1-4, find a new doctor. 

Learn About Possible Causes and Solutions.

Prevailing wisdom dictates that us anxiety sufferers should steer clear of Dr. Google and its endless tunnels of terrifying symptoms and causes. 

As someone who has, until very recently, been unsuccessful at staying off the internet whenever a new symptom pops up, I both agree and disagree with the prevailing wisdom.

If you are seeking help for a health issue, in this case excessive anxiety, it’s really important to know a bit about what causes the disorder, before you seek help.  And really, where else are you going to look but the internet?

When I went for help, I didn’t know anything about anxiety and my ignorance allowed my doctor to sideswipe me into an erroneous treatment that almost ruined my life. Arming yourself with some knowledge is in everyone’s best interest.  

No one wants to be the victim of a medical error or land a starring role in a malpractice situation.

Becoming informed requires balance. You don’t want to be ignorant of what is potentially happening inside of you but you don’t need to spend hours reading scary accounts of people who went in to discuss their mental health issues, only to discover they had a massive tumor pressing on their brain.

So go ahead. Be sensible and take a look at a wide variety of sites (not just the ones propagated by pharmaceutical companies) and make note of any possible causes that you would like to investigate.

“Being well-prepared for your appointment can maximize the time you have with your doctor and other practitioners. Being informed—and having information at the ready—means that you can expedite the diagnostic process and give them the maximum possible time to practice their healing modality.” – Ragen Chastain (check this article out for more, fantastic tips on self-advocacy)

Go in With the Right Info, Leave With the Right Info.

Lists are your number one tool when it comes to staying organized and on-track when you visit your doctor. 

It’s critically important that your doctor knows about various aspects of your life, past and present. A list detailing your socio-economic situation, physical living/working/school environment, what you ingest, physical illness/injury, and of course details of your mental health is an easy way to share that information.

It’s also very helpful to have a list of what you would like to achieve from your appointment. Document any medical testing you would like requisitions for as well as referrals to therapists, counsellors and/or dieticians.

Not sure where to start in gathering this information? Not to worry. Click here for the lists I have personally used when seeking professional help for my anxiety, just fill them in with your own info.

You can use these lists to guide your conversation or even provide a paper or electronic copy to your doctor for your file. Their reaction to and reception of this information will be a good indicator as to the type of care you can expect from them.

If you’re a long-term patient of your current doctor, they will have at least some of your history.  If this is the case, don’t back down from sharing your list. There may be new info to share and it is never a bad thing to review your circumstances.

Even though I was a new patient when I went to my doctor for anxiety and her knowledge of me was limited, she would not have been interested in a list like this. The only file it would have gone in would be the circular one on the floor.

The small amount of information I was able to convey at the very start of the appointment was completely and utterly ignored. After that I was too flustered and embarrassed to say anything more and dropped out of playing a role in my own care.

You Are A Partner in This Process. Read That Again.

Going to my doctor uninformed, failing to communicate my concerns and not getting answers to my questions all led to a complete loss of power and autonomy regarding my care.

Before I even entered the room, I was already a helpless victim. I believed I had no control over the situation and this belief allowed my relationship with my doctor to take on a dictatorship form.

It’s important to have the right mindset in this situation. Just because you feel lost and powerless and are “mentally ill” does not mean that your input and intuition are not of value. They are. No one knows you, like you know yourself.

You are equal partners with your doctor during this process, don’t forget that. You are the one who has to live with your treatment plan, no one else.

If you are not treated like a respected equal, walk out the door and find another doctor. 

Scared to Speak Up? That’s OK. Use Your Lists and Take Your Time. 

Depending on your doctor, it can be really intimidating seeking help for something like an anxiety disorder.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, my first doctor’s appointment for my anxiety was a disaster. I was like a mouse in a hurricane and was terrified to speak up and ask questions. 

However, as the years went by and I continued to seek help from different healthcare practitioners, I got pretty good at communicating my situation and desired outcomes. 

Because I started to realize that getting the wrong treatment was much, much worse than an awkward conversation with a doctor, I became great at advocating for myself.

Keeping an updated version of the lists I mentioned above has been my number one tool for easier conversations. As soon as the appointment starts, I just simply inform the doctor of why I am there and that I have important information regarding my situation to share.

Then I refer to the lists and read directly from them. It’s usually not necessary to read everything on them, I select what I want to highlight beforehand. 

I speak as slowly as I can and if my nerves get the better of me, I ask for a moment to collect myself before continuing. And I don’t feel bad about it.

Almost every doctor or practitioner I’ve seen since my original anxiety appointment has been very open and even appreciative of my approach. Some have even asked for an electronic copy to attach to my file.

Leave Your Appointment With a Sense of Control, Contribution, and Understanding.

Effective self-advocacy requires some planning and facing fears. It may mean a shift in your belief system when it comes to who is the authority on your health. 

After your appointment you should feel heard and reassured that the information you have provided is valuable.

You are taking responsibility for your mental health making it easier for your doctor to do their job and point you in the right direction.

If your doctor isn’t willing to listen and involve you as a key player in your treatment, it’s time to find a doctor who will.

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