Before your first appointment
It’s helpful to write down your concerns and think about or record responses to questions that your doctor may ask you:
- What symptoms have you recently had (including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for your appointment)?
- How long have these symptoms lasted? Do they come and go, or do you experience them consistently?
- Do you, or any family members, have a past history of these symptoms, or other serious illnesses, including mental illness?
- Are you taking any medications, either prescription or over-the-counter? Which ones?
- Have you experienced any major life stresses or changes recently, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the breakup of a relationship, or other events that have increased the level of stress in your life?
- Do you use alcohol or drugs? If so, has the amount you use or the frequency of use changed recently? Has anyone else considered it a problem or encouraged you to cut down?
- When did you or your loved ones first notice your symptoms of depression?
- How long have you felt depressed? Do you generally always feel down, or does your mood fluctuate?
- Does your mood ever swing from feeling down to feeling intensely happy and full of energy?
- Do you ever have suicidal thoughts when you're feeling down?
- Do your symptoms interfere with your daily life?
- What other mental or physical health conditions do you have?
- How much do you sleep at night? Does it change over time?
- Have you noticed any changes in your appetite recently?
- Have you noticed any changes in your productivity at school or at work recently?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
You can use the First Meeting with Your Provider worksheet to help you prepare.
During your first appointment
Share completely with your healthcare provider.
It can be difficult to talk about your feelings, even with a healthcare provider you’ve known for years. But if you don’t share your concerns about depression, your healthcare provider may not be able to spot them. It’s up to you to raise the issue and begin the conversation.
Even if you are meeting with a mental health professional, it’s important to share the full story so your clinician has a complete understanding of your situation. Provide as much information as possible, including not just the physical symptoms you are experiencing (stomach pains, difficulty sleeping, etc.), but the feelings and behaviors you find troubling (persistent sadness, anxiety, difficulty facing social situations, etc.).
Note: It may take some time before you feel comfortable with a new healthcare provider. If it’s not feeling like a good fit, let them know. The provider may be able to adapt to your needs or suggest someone who may be a better fit for you. You can also ask your primary care physician or someone you know for recommendations.
You may want to ask your provider some of the following basic questions:
- Is depression the most likely cause of my symptoms?
- What are other possible causes for my symptoms?
- What kinds of tests will I need?
- What treatment is likely to work best for me?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
- I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
- Should I see a psychiatrist or other mental health professional?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can have? What websites do you recommend?
- Are there any resources available for loved ones/supports in my life?
- Can my loved ones/supports be involved in my care?
- Are there things I can do in addition to my treatment plan (e.g. physical activity, sleep schedule, nutrition…)
If your provider suggests psychotherapy or a form of brain stimulation as part of your treatment plan:
Make sure you fully understand the type of treatment and why it is being recommended. Here are some questions you could ask:
- Why are you recommending this treatment approach?
- What can I expect from this treatment?
- What steps are involved in this treatment?
- How long might it take to begin to see a result from this treatment?
- Is this treatment covered by my insurance?
If your provider recommends medication as part of your treatment plan:
Make sure you understand which medications are being prescribed, why they have been selected, and whether there are potential side effects to consider. Here are some sample questions:
- What is the name of this medicine? Where can I read more about it?
- Is there a generic equivalent? Does it work as effectively?
- How often should it be taken each day, and at what intervals?
- Should it be taken with food?
- Does it interact negatively with any other drugs or with any foods? How about alcohol?
- What side effects have been observed with this medication?
- How long might it take to begin to see a result from taking this medication?
- Is this medication covered by my insurance?
Once a medication has been prescribed for you, it’s important to track how your body responds to it, and to share this information with your provider. You can use this Weekly Medication Log to track when you took your medicine, the dose taken, changes in your symptoms, and any side effects you may notice.
At future appointments
Continue to be fully open and share details about your symptoms, the side effects of treatment, and your other concerns with your healthcare provider so they can adjust your treatment plan as needed. Providers want to know how the treatment plan is going and they are here to help. If a certain plan isn’t working then let them know. You can use the Preparing for Your Appointments worksheet to help you prepare for each of your upcoming appointments.
If your finances are tight, ask your provider or clinic if you can pay on a “sliding scale fee” (reduced fee based on your ability to pay) or if you can schedule appointments every other week instead of weekly. If you are employed, your employer may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that covers mental health services.
The information contained in your medical records is specifically protected by a federal law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA regulates the use and release of personal health information (also known as protected health information).
Healthcare professionals are required by law not to share your personal health information, anything discussed during an appointment, or anything noted in written medical records without your permission. If you have any doubts about whether your privacy will be protected, ask your provider to review his/her policy on patient confidentiality.
If you’re a Michigan Medicine patient, you can securely access your own health information and records on a 24/7 patient portal at MyUofMHealth.org.