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5 Essential Questions to Ask Your Psychiatrist

Having a mental illness is a stressful experience, no doubt, but what many may not even consider is the difficulty in receiving help. As someone who lives with your mental illness on a daily basis, you are clearly the one who knows it best — yet you can’t, and shouldn’t, prescribe a treatment for your own mental illness. This task is left to a psychiatrist, who, although they are an expert, can only gain information about your particular problems through your descriptions.

This can make the experience of getting help even more stressful, but it doesn’t have to. You should regard yourself as the expert on your own mental state, but you should regard your psychiatrist as a wealth of knowledge on how to improve it. For this reason, you should never hesitate to ask questions — and to get you more accustomed to this process, we’ve compiled a list of questions that you should consider asking the first time you see your psychiatrist.

1.What are the side effects?

A woman who is not feeling well
Some medicines may leave you feeling tired or sick.

It’s important to know just how your medicine will affect you, and this includes side effects as well as its main treatment power since they both have the potential to affect your quality of life. Most antidepressants tend to cause dizziness and stomach problems, as well as possibly decreasing your sex drive. Many other medicines might cause sluggishness and fatigue.

Plus, some medicines may cause more major, long-term side effects, such as increased risk of physical illness. Ask your psychiatrist about both short-term and long-term side effects, and if you’re not comfortable with the answer, you might want to consider asking the next question as well.

2. What other treatment options are there?

A woman meditating in nature
Meditation, although not a substitute for medicine, has many health benefits, especially for your mind.

You should always ask your psychiatrist to give you all your options so that you yourself, as the expert on your own mental state and desired quality of life, can weigh the pros and cons of each treatment. You may favor a more holistic approach, using treatments such as meditation, plant-based supplements, or even acupuncture — though these may not always be a substitute for medication. TMS therapy, for example, is a non-drug treatment that has been FDA approved for addressing depression symptoms and has been shown to be effective even in those with treatment-resistant depression, making it an ideal alternative to pharmaceutical treatment. You can also consider different types of medicine that your psychiatrist can helpfully outline for you.

3. Will it cause dependency?

If you try a medicine and decide that it isn’t right for you — which is a definite possibility — you will want to know how stopping the treatment will affect you. Even if the answer is yes, it will cause dependency, this usually shouldn’t be regarded as a reason not to try the medicine. With proper monitoring and management of withdrawal symptoms, dependency can be dealt with somewhat easily.

4. What happens if I miss a dose?

Just like you experience withdrawal when trying to get off a medication, some treatments may cause you to have withdrawal symptoms if you happen to miss a dose. This is something that you should consider if you have a particularly hectic schedule, or have had trouble sticking to treatments in the past. This may not be a problem if your medicine, like most anti-anxiety treatments, is taken based on need.

5. How long does it take to work?

an hourglass with red sand
Be patient with your treatment — you may not notice the effects right away.

It’s important to note that mental health medication is far from perfect, and often it does take some time to kick in. Usually, it can take a few weeks for effects to start cropping up, but sometimes it takes even longer — up to twelve weeks. If your treatment is not working within three months, contact your psychiatrist. Though you may want your treatment to be immediate, that’s just not how it works, which is why it’s important to see a professional about your mental health issues as soon as possible.

Like all fields of medicine, psychiatry is by no means a perfect science — it may take a good long time for you to find a medicine that suits your needs. Remember throughout that process that you know yourself — if something doesn’t feel right to you, be sure to tell your psychiatrist, and never hesitate to ask questions.