Medical Care for Mental Health Care

by | Mar 29, 2022 | Mental Health

Have you gotten a check up lately?   When our mental and emotional health has taken a hit, it’s incredibly important to check in on our physical health.  Medical care is an important part of mental health care.  Grief, anxiety, trauma, and depression have all been associated with physical symptoms.  If we’ve experienced a trauma or a traumatic loss, we are at much higher risk for various health problems if we don’t get the medical care we need.

I’ve had the opportunity to work as a social worker within medical settings for many years, and I’ve gotten to see the importance of a regular physical first-hand. 

Grief, anxiety, trauma, and depression have all been associated with physical symptoms.

Let’s think about the importance of medical care in mental health care in two ways:

First, we could have a medical condition that is causing us to feel more anxious or depressed.  Untreated sleep apnea, irregular heartbeat, and thyroid problems are all well known for majorly contributing to poor emotional health or mimicking the symptoms of mental health conditions. 

One of the most basic things I’ve learned in all of my years of school and experience is the necessity of ruling out medical problems BEFORE attributing something to a mental health condition.  Especially if symptoms have come on suddenly without an obvious experience or environment change that would trigger the symptoms, I highly recommend making a medical appointment.  A general check up with some basic blood work is always a good choice if you haven’t had one recently.

Second, the changes to our mental and emotional well being could have impacted our health in ways that we may or may not be aware of.  Our weight may be going up or down, we may not be sleeping well, or diet and activity changes may have impacted our blood pressure or cholesterol.  We also may want to ask questions about medications that may help us manage our symptoms.

Regardless of the outcome, you either find out there is something that needs treatment, or you can be reassured you are in good health.

Advocating in medical care can be hard

However, advocating for ourselves in medical appointments can be really difficult sometimes.  Most of us are familiar with the medical system limiting us to brief appointments that only allow us to get adequate treatment for one, or maybe two, problems we’re experiencing.  Our medical providers don’t like being cramped for time either, so this frustrates everyone involved!

So, you decide to make a medical appointment.  You know you haven’t been sleeping well, and you have no energy.  You’ve been really anxious and overwhelmed by work and family responsibilities.  You’ve been nauseous so your appetite has significantly decreased.  Your back hurts, so its been impossible to go for your daily walks.  And you read this article, so you’re also interested in asking about routine blood work.

A system to reduce the stress

All of this stresses you out because you know it’s all important to you, and you’re not sure what relates to anything else or where to begin!  We know we need the expertise of our medical provider to help us recognize if something is important to address, even if it wasn’t on the top of our own list.  Over the years, I’ve created a simple system that allows us to check all the boxes of what we need to accomplish in the appointment:

  1. Make sure our provider knows everything that is causing a problem
  2. Make sure our provider knows what we see as most important to be addressed
  3. Give our provider the ability to use their expertise to tell us if something should move up the priority list

Here’s how to prioritize your medical needs:

Step 1: Make a list of everything that is bothering you.

This works great if you have a long list and have trouble thinking of everything at once.  Stick it on the fridge and update it when something comes to mind.

A bullet point list of example medical needs

Step 2: Mark the top one or two priorities for your visit that day

This could be based on what seems most urgent, or what is impacting your life the most, or just what you are most frustrated by.  It’s YOUR priorities, so you determine what they are however you want!

A bullet point list of example medical needs with two marked with a red star

Step 3: Let your medical assistant and your medical provider know that you have a list of things that you want them to be aware of, but you’ve marked what you are most hopeful to have addressed today.  This is a really important step!! If you just give a list to your provider, they won’t know what to do with it and they might think you expect everything to be fixed today. 

By clarifying that the other items on the list are ones that you want them to know about, you give your provider the ability to tell you if two things are related or can be treated together, or to make a plan to address them at the next appointment.

How does this method actually work?

Let’s use our example above:

Our medical provider may look at our list and say “wow this is the best list I have ever seen, now my job is so much easier and you will get the best care!” (they probably won’t say that, but they’ll be thinking it 😊)

Jokes aside, they’ll have a great starting point to find out where they need to get some more information.   They may tell us that they’re concerned about our nausea because it looks like we’ve lost weight since our last visit, and they want to prioritize that for today’s visit.  They may also say that they have something they can prescribe to help with sleep problems and, since they also know we’re feeling anxious, they’ll pick something that may help us to calm down as well.

Now, it’s possible to get all of that without making a list.  But, I’ll tell you that you’ll spend more time trying to get the information out there to your provider instead of spending that time actually discussing what can be done about any of it.  And isn’t the desire for that expertise why we go to a medical appointment in the first place?

So, your growth work after reading this article is to think about the last time you had a check-up and whether you might be due for another one.  Remember, it isn’t your job to know what can and can’t be helped by a doctor – it’s just your job to ask! 

Need help sorting out your medical vs mental health care?

I get it, this can be complicated stuff that can make us feel even more overwhelmed. If you’re ready to start therapy, or just want to learn more about the process, I’d love to speak with you.  Your 15-minute consultation is always at no cost to you because it is incredibly important to me that you find just the right person to share in your journey.  Use the link below to schedule your consultation or give me a call.  I’m here for you.

Take good care of yourself,

Sarah

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