How to talk to your doctor about depression

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If you’ve been feeling down for at least two weeks, research shows telling your doctor about your symptoms is a smart choice. Depression can affect you in many ways: mentally, emotionally, and physically. To help you feel better, your doctor will work with you to check your current state, finding out if you do, in fact, have depression.

“Having a personal plan based on your own situation, life history, and strengths can help you set goals that can lead to feeling better over time,” says Greg Simon, MD, MPH, a Group Health psychiatrist and senior researcher at Group Health Research Institute.

To help you develop such a plan, your doctor may ask:

  • How long have you been in this period of depression? (When was the last time you felt in a good mood for at least a week?)
  • What parts of depression bother you the most? Physical symptoms? Feelings? Behaviors? Negative thoughts?
  • Did particular events (losses, disappointments, stressful events) contribute to bringing on this period of depression?
  • Have you ever been depressed in the past? If so, how did that time (or those times) compare to this?
  • If you’ve had periods of depression before, did you get any help or treatment from professionals, including counseling and taking medications?
  • If you’ve had periods of depression before, what things (other than professional treatment) helped you to recover? (This could include things you did for yourself or help you got from others.)
  • What things do you think would help you most to recover from this episode of depression? (This might include things you could do; help from others (friends, family, co-workers, etc.); or help from professionals.)
  • What are the one or two most important changes you’d like to make in your life over the next few months? How would one be able to tell if these changes really happened?

Answering these questions will help you and your doctor more fully understand what’s causing you to feel depressed and how deeply you are affected by it. Together, your doctor and you can use this information as the foundation for a strategy that may include a range of treatment options, such as antidepressant medication, counseling, or care for a chronic physical illness.