This article is the second in a series written by Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) in an effort to educate and inform UCSB students about depression on campus. For more information, go to the Student Health website at www.sa.ucsb.edu/studenthealth or call 893-3371 for an appointment with a health care professional.
If you have been battling feelings of depression, hopefully our last article convinced you to seek help. The aim of that article was to stress how important it is to get help and that there are multiple resources available to provide it. If you have taken that first step toward recovery, or want to know more before you do, here is what to expect at the doctor’s office so that you can make the most of your visit.
Typically, a patient’s history is the most significant information a doctor can obtain. Therefore, it is important that you go to your appointment ready to share. Information you give to the doctor is confidential, and there are laws protecting your privacy, so you should feel comfortable answering any personal questions. The more the doctor knows about you, the better he or she will be able to diagnose and treat any illness you may have. This is especially true for depression, since the symptoms may be heavily influenced by environmental factors.
The first questions you will be asked will probably concern your family history. Mental illnesses like depression tend to run in families, so the more you know about your family’s history, the more you will know about the likelihood of you becoming depressed. Conversely, no family history just means that you are less likely, not immune, to developing it. The next important set of questions generally involves drug history, legal and illicit. Drugs like alcohol can exacerbate depression, and as the previous article noted, are sometimes used to mask its symptoms. In addition, if the doctor decides you need medication, he or she needs to make sure that you are not taking anything that would interact dangerously with your prescription. You should absolutely make the doctor aware of any prescribed medications, homeopathic remedies or illicit drugs you have taken or will be taking. Remember, all that you disclose is confidential.
Finally, it is important that you openly discuss your lifestyle with the doctor. Environmental factors like stress, nutrition and conflict can all precipitate or aggravate symptoms of depression. Don’t be surprised by questions concerning your living situation or relationships. The more your doctor knows about you and how you have handled your negative feelings, the more of a precise plan he or she can develop.
The best approach to a doctor’s visit is an open one. To make the most out of your visit, be willing to share and ask questions. If you are wary of taking prescription drugs, ask about therapy options and support groups, or discuss the pros and cons of medication. If you are put on a medication, be sure to know what the side effects are and how long to wait for results. Some medications take a period of time to start working. The hardest part of getting help is asking. The doctors at Student Health understand how you are feeling and want to help. Creating an open dialogue with your doctor will help them help you.
Treatment for depression can include prescription drug therapy, counseling or some combination of the two. Therefore, the third and final article in this series will discuss these treatment options and what the health care professional hopes to accomplish with them.
Daniel Shepherd is a senior English major and a member of the SHAC.