Don’t Be Embarrassed: How to Talk to Your Healthcare Provider about Mental Health

Four tips to overcome embarrassment or shame around speaking to your healthcare provider about mental health.

Healthcare provider listening to patient talk about mental health struggles.

The stigma around mental health conditions can make it difficult to open up and discuss any concerns with your provider. But not talking to your provider can have a far worse outcome—suffering in silence. Other consequences that surround the mental health stigma include:

  • Feeling ashamed, hopeless, and isolated
  • Feeling misunderstood by family and friends
  • Bullying, physical violence, and harassment
  • Self-doubt

Mental health conditions are incredibly common and transcend demographic and geographic barriers. However, for some, the thought of talking to their healthcare provider about their mental health needs can feel scary or even embarrassing.

But failing to seek help and delaying treatment can lead to a poor quality of life and even more serious outcomes such as the development of illnesses such as obesity and chronic pain, unemployment, Substance Use Disorder, homelessness, and worsening mental health.

Related: Mental Health Ups and Downs for Men

Here are some tips to overcome embarrassment or shame around speaking to your healthcare provider about your mental health.

1. Understand the importance of getting help

Mental health is a significant aspect of your overall health and well-being. When you experience the often overwhelming symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, it becomes more difficult to focus on your responsibilities and take care of others.

Some of the most common symptoms of mental health struggles include:

  • Negative thoughts about yourself
  • Moodiness or irritability
  • Sleeping problems (trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping)
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Excessive worrying
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the tasks of everyday living (getting up in the morning, going to work)

Feeling stressed or worried at times is part of the human condition, but when these feelings start to take over or interfere with your life, seeking help should be your next step.

2. Consider what your provider can do for you

You aren’t alone if you feel embarrassed or worried about talking to your healthcare provider about your mental health concerns. After all, it can be a struggle to open up and let others into aspects of your life that make you feel vulnerable.

Thinking about what your provider can do to help you overcome the challenges you are experiencing may make it a little less scary. Your healthcare provider will maintain the confidentiality of what you discuss (as long as you’re not threatening the safety of yourself or others, in which case they would be bound by law to report this to authorities).

In addition to maintaining your confidentiality, your healthcare provider can also recommend treatment options that can help you feel better. Your provider may recommend therapy, support groups, and in some cases, medication to help you get out of the rut. If certain aspects of your lifestyle are contributing to your emotional or mental challenges, they can recommend changes that make a significant difference in your life.

A healthcare provider can also answer questions you might have about your experience, helping you to understand that what you’re dealing with is a common medical condition.

3. Receive a referral for specialized treatment

If you’ve ever tried to find a healthcare specialist on your own, you probably know that it can be difficult. It’s hard to know which providers will align with your needs and provide the treatment options that will help you overcome your condition.

But when you talk to your primary healthcare provider about your mental health, they can refer you to someone who specializes in what you need. If counseling would be helpful, a referral to an experienced counselor might be the best option. If you need more intensive treatment, your provider can assist with this need as well.

If you prefer to search for a mental health specialist on your own, start by viewing the in-network mental health providers your insurance covers. Many insurers offer a provider search tool that allows you to view the doctors covered in your network.

4. Use “I Feel” statements

If you’re feeling unsure about how to start the conversation with your provider, try using “I feel” statements to express your feelings and concerns. For example, you might tell your doctor, “I feel concerned that it is very difficult for me to get out of bed due to feeling worried at least a few days a week.” Include the estimated frequency of your symptoms in your “I feel” statements so that your provider can get an idea of how much the challenges are disrupting your life.

After you start the conversation, your provider will likely respond with follow-up questions to better understand how to help you. Be as honest and thoughtful as possible when answering. An open conversation is the best way to get the help you need from a healthcare provider you can trust.

With these tools, you can go into your next appointment feeling confident and ready to discuss these sensitive and potentially worrisome issues. There is no reason to feel embarrassed. Your healthcare provider wants to help you live your best life and treating any potential mental health condition is part of ensuring your overall health and well-being.

Related: Common Myths about Mental Health Problems

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