Many people many not think about their family doctor as the first-step in dealing with mental health concerns. Fortunately, your family doctor can help with ruling-out other conditions and point you in the right direction for care.
Start With Baseline Screening
More family doctors and other professionals in primary care settings are being trained to identify issues related to mental health. This is often due to changes decades ago related to insurance and the need for referrals to see a mental health professional. Your doctor may want to make a record of any symptoms you are experiencing, including both emotional and physical. In some cases, mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, can easily have co-occurring physical symptoms, like heart palpitations, nausea, and insomnia. Additionally, your doctor may want to do a screening test where you answer questions related to your mood. Although these tests do not directly diagnose a mental illness, they can give your doctor an idea if you score highly for a mental illness and whether prompt referral to an emergency care setting is warranted.
Rule-Out Other Medical Conditions
It is important to rule-out other conditions. A common medical condition that can easily manifest as anxiety or depression is problems with your thyroid. Your doctor will likely want to perform blood work that tests your thyroid function in addition to other standard tests. People with low thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) often feel sluggish and depressed. Conversely, those with elevated thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism) might experience panic attacks and other forms of anxiety. Additionally, it may be necessary for your doctor to order imaging tests if you are experiencing a combination of unusual symptoms, such as headaches, hallucinations, or other unusual behavior. Brain tumors can easily appear to be a psychotic disorder if all symptoms are not taken into account and imaging tests are not performed.
Whether your family doctor wants to start you on a medication for a mental health condition is purely determine by how comfortable they feel with treating you. Some doctors are willing to start you on antidepressants if they believe you have depression or an anxiety disorder. This can be helpful while your doctor is in the process of referring you to a mental health setting, especially for people who are uninsured or under-insured and may not have these resources readily available.
Many family doctors do not feel comfortable starting their patients on other types of psychiatric medications, such as mood stabilizers or antipsychotics, and they may prefer to refrain from treatment and wait until you can see a psychiatrist. If you have limited resources or your insurance does not cover extensive mental health visits, see if your doctor will work closely with a psychiatrist to manage some of your care. Some family doctors are willing to prescribe the medications recommended by the psychiatrist and do your medication checks because it is generally less expensive to visit the family doctor than the psychiatrist, who is considered a specialist.
If you notice changes in your mood, do not be afraid to ask your family doctor for help. They can help rule-out other conditions and point you in the right direction to receive the appropriate care.