You go to your doctor when you aren’t feeling well. You may be overly tired and losing a significant amount of weight or perhaps you are experiencing an increased heart beat and shortness of breath periodically. After the doctor does not find a physical reason for the problem, they may decide that your problem is related to your mental health. Mental health problems do often result in physical symptoms such as those already mentioned and in these cases, it is important to seek counseling to help resolve the underlying problem instead of trying to treat the symptoms. Although your medical doctor is a great place to start to make sure there is not a medical reason for the symptoms, there are some things to keep in mind if your doctor does believe that it is a mental health issue.
Doctors do typically have some education in the mental health/psychology fields but their primary concern and focus is on your physical health. It takes time to make a well informed diagnosis, time which most doctors do not have to spend with their patients. There is an entire book (DSM-IV TR) that is dedicated to the criteria needed to diagnose someone with each mental health diagnosis there is. Although your general practitioner should be familiar with each of these as they would be familiar with how the rest of the body works, if they have reason to believe you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health disorder, it would be important for them to refer you to a mental health professional for further diagnosis and treatment just as they would refer you to an oncologist for cancer. Although I have come across some wonderful doctors who do just this, many give a diagnosis after talking to their patient for a few minutes and then write a prescription. The problem with this is that medication may not be the best treatment option for you and many people go along with their doctor’s recommendation believing they know what is best. Also, although medication can be helpful in some cases, it is important to work on the underlying problem as I already stated and to learn coping skills and how to make the proper life changes for long lasting effects.
Doctor’s have also been known to make incorrect diagnoses or to push medication when it is not needed. In the next blog entries I will discuss cases in which this has happened and how to make sure you do not fall prey to these situations.