Helping professionals help usWe’ve all been there…

  • Doctor: “How much caffeine do you drink a day?”
  • Patient: “Oh, only a cup a day” (while thinking to themselves, it’s actually 4)
  • Doctor: “Ok, good. Do you smoke cigarettes?”
  • Patient: “Only socially” (while thinking, ‘ok, maybe a half pack a day’)

We’re not opening up to our doctors the way we need to.

We go to the doctor when we’re sick, and we need their help, but often we will “stretch the truth” about some of our activities, or about how we’re doing. A study was recently discussed by TIME Healthland about patients lying to their doctors about having depression. The University of California examined a sample of Americans, and according to the results…

The researchers found that 43% of respondents said they had at least one reason for not telling their doctors about symptoms of depression. The most common reason, cited by 23% of those surveyed, was fear that their doctor would try to prescribe them antidepressant drugs.

Thirteen percent said they were worried they would be referred to a psychiatrist and 12% said they didn’t want to be considered a psychiatric patient. Further, 16% didn’t think psychological issues fell under the purview of a primary care doctor, and 15% were concerned about medical record confidentiality.

The Study also found that when a participant felt a reason for hiding their depression applied to them, they were more likely to meet criteria for moderate to severe depression. What we can imply from this study, is that it appears that those who need treatment the most for depression are too scared to tell their doctors about it, just because they do not want to be prescribed an antidepressant. What startled me most about people hiding their depression, was found inanother study completed by Mayo Clinic and University of Washington-Seattle. They study states…

almost 45 percent of people who committed suicide had seen their primary-care physician weeks or even days before. Some of them may have told their doctor they felt suicidal, and some may have been asked but denied it. But the researchers said doctors pose the question to patients with depression in less than half of cases, putting the burden on patients to raise the subject – or to answer truthfully if asked.

What’s going on?

Granted, if a physician inquires about depressive symptoms in a patient, and the patient denies feeling depressed, there is not a whole lot the doctor can do. However, if someone is exhibiting symptoms of depression, the doctor should ALWAYS check in about suicidal tendencies. Especially as a primary care physician, they may go a month or longer in between visits from their patients. They may not seem them on a regular enough basis to know their mental health is declining more and more.

But again – We all do it.

However, I want to come back to my first statement, “WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE.” Most of us have lied to our doctors, or others about what we are currently, or have done. We all want people to see us in a positive light. However, we need to find a way to encourage the idea of mental health being a part of overall health to patients. If a patient goes in to the doctor because they have high blood pressure, the doctor will prescribe medication to bring the patient’s blood pressure down to healthy level until the patient can decrease it on their own through diet and exercise. If a patient comes in with depression, they may be prescribed an antidepressant to improve their mood until the effects of therapy help them get through their depression.

Like I mentioned in my article last week, The Modern Day Plague – Mental Illness, the stigma of mental health is again getting in the way of people getting the help we need. Or, is it our inability to provide adequate services to patients? Are patients not opening up because they don’t feel it’s a safe environment? Do they not feel their doctors are giving them the adequate time to express what they want to say? Either way, something needs to change. We should not see a rate of 45% of patients who commit suicide even after seeing a doctor weeks if not days prior to killing themselves.

So help the professionals help you. If you tend to be closed off, try being more open about your symptoms the next time you see your health care professional.

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

Helping professionals to help us
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