Should I see a doctor???

Disclaimer: Secondhand Therapy cannot provide medical advice and this section is intended to be general guidance only.  Everyone’s situation is different and therefore Secondhand Therapy cannot accept responsibility for the general information provided below.  If in doubt, please seek medical help.  If your life is at risk, seek medical help immediately (phone numbers for Canada, US and Australia are listed at the bottom of this page)!

Some information for you to consider:

It is so difficult to accurately assess yourself when you are not doing well.  First, you do not have the medical knowledge to understand what might be a symptom.  Second, it is easy to minimize the severity of any potential symptoms when you have lost sight of what your “normal” feels like.

If you are aware that something isn’t feeling right, it could be a disorder of your brain (I like this term much more than mental illness) such as anxiety or depression or it could be an issue elsewhere in your body that is affecting your ability to cope.  Your doctor can diagnose this.

One major red flag that may indicate you should seek medical help is when everything is at a “10.”  What I mean by this is that you have lost your mental buffer.  Your brain is interpreting every new situation or curveball as a 10/10 on the stress scale.  This can be really difficult to self-assess.  You may need to ask someone you trust if they perceive that you are “at a 10″ frequently and make it a safe space for them to answer honestly.

If you have almost no mental buffer, this is a good reason to consult with a medical professional.  Many of the women that I have spoken to over the past few years that have been diagnosed by their doctor with anxiety or depression reflect that this was exactly what they had experienced until they started treatment.  It’s like putting on glasses for the first time when you start treatment: you think that your vision is fine until you put on your first pair of eyeglasses and then you realize that those green smudges on the horizon are actually trees.  No one can convince you that you eyes need assistance until you catch a glimpse of what it is like to see better.

Addressing some misconceptions:

You are strong and you are a survivor.  I’m guessing it’s hard to admit that you might not be doing so well.

I would like to share some insights that I learned from reading The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon.  I have shared these concepts with a few doctors and therapists over the past year, who have started explaining these same concepts to their patients:

♥ Illness of the mind is real illness.  It can have severe effects on the body . . . If you show up complaining that your breathing is troubled, no one says to you, “Why there’s nothing wrong with you except that you have emphysema!”  To the person who is experiencing them, psychosomatic complaints are as real as the stomach cramps of someone who has food poisoning . . . The diagnosis–whether something is rotten in your stomach or your appendix or your brain–matters in determining treatment and is not trivial.  As organs go, the brain is quite an important one, and it malfunctions should be addressed accordingly.

♥ “It’s sort of like a primary cancer that’s very drug-responsive, but then once it metastasizes, it doesn’t respond at all,” [Robert Post, chief of Biological Psychiatry Branch of the NIMH] explains.  “If you have too many episodes, it changes your biochemistry for the bad, possibly permanently . . .” That which is mended is but patched and can never be whole again.

♥ Depression these days is treatable; you take antidepressants like you take radiation for cancer.  They sometimes do miraculous things, but none of it is easy and results are inconsistent.

♥ To take medication as part of the battle is to battle fiercely, and to refuse it would be as ludicrously self-destructive as entering a modern warfare on horseback.  It is not weak to take mediations; it does not mean that you can’t cope with your personal life; it is courageous.  Nor is it weak to seek help from a wise therapist.  Faith in God and any form of faith in yourself are great.  You must take your therapies, all kinds, with you into the struggle.  You cannot wait to be cured.

Let’s elaborate on the second quote with the comparison to primary cancer.  If you were diagnosed with stage 1 cancer, which is usually completely treatable, you would probably tell your friends, “Wow, I am so glad that the doctor caught it so early!  I feel very blessed!”

On the other hand, being diagnosed with anxiety or depression, when it’s not completely debilitating, can leave people secretly wishing it was something more tangible.  But we would never secretly wish for stage 3 cancer when it was caught at stage 1.

The earlier you can catch a disorder of your brain such as anxiety or depression, the less chance it has to “metastasize” and irrevocably alter how your brain functions.

Before your appointment:

There are some things that you can do to increase the quality of your experience at your doctor’s appointment.

You could try an online screening tool and take in the results to discuss with your doctor.  The Here to Help website has four screening tests (including ones for anxiety and depression) that you can print out the results to take into your appointment.

A word of caution when answering questionnaires, as your doctor might also go through a questionnaire with you to help them make a diagnosis.  You may look at a question, such as if you are having trouble sleeping, and you think you are fine but your partner may have a different perspective on this.  If you are someone who tends to think they are fine, then you may be overly optimistic when answering questions.  Ask someone who is close to you if they would agree with your answers or if they can recognize that you are under-reporting your symptoms.

The Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division, has a great resource that walks you through how to talk with your doctor.  The Getting Help document uses a PREPARE acronym based on the Institute for Healthcare Communication:

P – Plan: Make a list of the main points you want to tell or learn from your doctor or health care provider.

R - Report: During your visit, tell your doctor what you want to talk about.

E – Exchange Information: Make sure you tell your doctor what’s wrong.  Printing out an online screening tool, or bringing a diary you may have been keeping can help.  Make sure to describe the impact your symptoms or side effects are having on your day-to-day life.  Sometimes it can help to bring someone along for support and to help you describe your behavior and symptoms if you’re unable to.

P – Participate: Discuss with your doctor the different ways of handling your health problems.  Make sure you understand the positive and negative features about each choice.  Ask lots of questions.

A – Agree: Be sure you and your doctor agree on a treatment plan you can live with.

RE - Repeat: Tell your doctor what you think you will need to take care of the problem.



Please note that these numbers could change without notice and therefore Secondhand Therapy cannot accept responsibility for the accuracy of these numbers.  

In the Canada:

  • Please call 911 if your life is at risk
  • If you or someone you love is contemplating ending their life, you can call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) any time of day or night.

In the United States:

  • If you are in a suicide crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

In Australia:

  • Please call 000 if your life is in danger
  • For 24/7 crisis hotline support, call Lifeline at 13 11 14.  There is also a chat line for people living in Australia that is available during specific hours.