Start the mental health conversation with your primary care provider
By: St. Luke’s Health - The Woodlands Hospital | Published 01/10/2023
Mental health is central to our health and well-being. In fact, mental health problems are very common and represent a significant proportion of primary care visits. When we enjoy good mental health, it's easier to make decisions, adapt to change, and relate to others.
When your mental health is out of balance, you may notice changes in how you feel or act. You may find it hard to get out of bed in the morning or have trouble concentrating. You may also lose interest in activities you used to enjoy. We all experience difficult emotions, but if these changes last more than two weeks, it's essential to seek help.
Fortunately, mental health treatment with cognitive therapy combined with medication in some cases has made recovery a reality for most people. If you don't know where to start, your primary care provider (PCP) can help get you on track to feeling better. A PCP may be a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. Here are the benefits of seeing a primary care provider for mental health concerns.
PCPs are often the first line of defense for patients
The doctor's office is usually the first stop for most patients. It's where you typically go for routine exams or when you're sick or in pain. But the role of a PCP is much more significant than that. PCPs can screen and treat various chronic health conditions, including depression and anxiety. In most cases, you can benefit from seeing a PCP for your physical and mental health.
People with persistent depression, anxiety, or stress may notice changes in their bodies. They could see a spike in their heart rate and blood pressure, reduced blood flow to the heart, and heightened cortisol levels. Similarly, patients with chronic diseases such as heart disease are at increased risk for depression or anxiety. With so much of our physical and mental health depending on each other, seeing a PCP for all aspects of your health is ideal.
PCPs can refer you to specialists and social services resources
Besides specializing in a wide range of conditions, your provider can also help boost your mental health. Even the most minor lifestyle changes, such as getting more sleep, exercise, and what you eat, can help turn your life around. If you have concerns about your mental health, be honest with your PCP about your symptoms, including when they started and how often they occur. Equally important is knowing and sharing your family history since many mental health disorders tend to run in families.
At times, as with any other medical concern, you'd likely benefit from seeing a team of experts for mental health concerns. Thus, PCPs may refer you to another health care professional, such as a psychiatrist, social worker, counselor, therapist, or psychologist. Together, they'd be able to help manage your symptoms.
PCPs are more accessible and get to know you over time
Most of the time, PCPs can help you manage your needs without seeing a specialist. However, if a specialist is needed, PCPs can help ease the most urgent concerns while you wait to see a specialist or another clinician, like a clinical therapist or counselor. If you see the same PCP over a long period, they will become very familiar with your family and medical history. They may notice and flag potential changes in your behavior or mood as they get to know you better.
Think of your PCP as your partner in your wellness journey. With regular checkups and healthy habits, you can help prevent serious illness. In fact, research shows that patients with a long-term relationship with their PCP are less likely to end up in the emergency department. To improve access and convenience, your PCP may offer video visits for certain conditions. That's a game changer for patients who don't have a car, can't drive, or cannot take time off from work.
Mental health is an essential part of your overall health. When concerns come up, it's important to seek help right away. Think of optimal mental health as a necessary means to physical health. Don't wait until your PCP asks you about your mental health. Start the conversation today and be on your way to a healthier you. Sharing intimate details can be worrisome, but getting help is necessary. If you need to speak to a PCP about your physical or mental health, call 832-598-7721 to schedule an appointment or visit https://www.stlukeshealth.org/appointments.
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NIMH » Caring for Your Mental Health (nih.gov)
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Understanding the expanding role of primary care physicians (PCPs) to primary psychiatric care physicians (PPCPs): enhancing the assessment and treatment of psychiatric conditions - PMC (nih.gov)
Choosing a primary care provider: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia