If you’ve decided to see a health care professional about your depression, you may not be sure what to expect. One thing to prepare yourself for: A lot of questions. They’ll probably ask for a lot of information before your visit and ask even more questions when you meet. What will they want to know?
When you have an idea of what they’ll ask, it can help you prepare. This way, you can
think through your responses and make sure you don’t forget anything.
What Will Your Health Care Professional Do During Your Appointment for Depression?
They may ask you to fill out a questionnaire before your appointment. Many use the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), which is a depression rating scale. It asks you to rate things like if you have a poor appetite, trouble sleeping, or if you’re feeling hopeless.
During a visit with a doctor, they may take your blood pressure or do a basic physical checkup. They may ask you to have lab testing to get a clearer view of your clinical health.
After that, get ready for the questions.
What Questions Will They Ask?
What do you do for a living or what hobbies do you enjoy? Small talk can help break the ice and let you get to know each other. It may also give the doctor or counselor a glimpse into what you’re dealing with -- and see how they can help.
Do you live with family? You may also want to share what kinds of support systems you have in your life, such as family and friends that you can talk to.
How would you sum up your general health? Give the therapist or doctor a quick overview of any major diseases and conditions you live with, and include if you smoke, how often you drink alcohol, and how often you exercise.
What diseases and conditions run in your family, including mental health issues? In addition to physical health, talk about any mental health issues that other family members have gone through. This can help the therapist or doctor know if you’re at risk for certain disorders, spot early warning signs, and possibly help you reduce your risk.
Do you take any medications or supplements regularly? Make sure to tell the provider about any over-the-counter medications or dietary supplements you take, in addition to any prescription medicines.
Why are you seeking mental health care? If the doctor or therapist asks, share a bit about what you hope to get from your visit. Specify if you’d like to try psychotherapy or medication (or both), or if they recommend it.
Have you ever been in therapy before or tried other treatments for your mental health? It’s important that your health care professional knows how long you’ve been dealing with depression (or other mental health condition), as well as what you may have done in the past to treat it.
What goals do you have for your care? If you know what you want to get out of treatment (perhaps physical relief or you want to know why you’re dealing with depression), it’s good to let the health care provider know.
What are your symptoms and how often do they occur? Explain when symptoms started, how severe they are, when they happen. Also share about any major life events that may have made them start or become worse.
When doctors and counselors evaluate you for depression, they will try to see if the depression is caused by a neurological issue or other physical cause -- or if it’s secondary to another mental health issue (for example, some people who have anxiety can also experience depression).
Can the Health Care Provider Share Information We Discuss?
Whatever you discuss with your therapist is confidential -- they can’t tell anyone else about it. But there are some exceptions.
They can share information if they know you plan to harm someone else or yourself. If they get a court order, they may have to give out some of your personal information as well. They may share your medical records with other health care professionals, but usually they’ll tell you before doing so.
Your health care professional must notify authorities if you are being abused, or if you are neglectful of others. (But they won’t share details on any abuse from your past.)
If you’re under 18, check with your state’s laws to see if you need to inform parents or caregivers about receiving mental health treatment.
Worried that your co-workers could find out that you’re seeking mental health care? Your employer won’t know about it, even if you use their insurance to get the care.
A Note Before You Go to a Mental Health Specialist
Sometimes going in for a mental health evaluation can be overwhelming. You may be hesitant to seek care because you’re ashamed of the issue. You may be eager to find out what’s going on and get answers. The fact that you’re willing to get care is what matters.
Remember that you can bring someone with you to the appointment, though you don’t have to. (You can also bring someone to sit in the waiting room with you and ask them to wait there while you speak to your doctor or therapist.) Whatever makes you comfortable and helps you get care is a priority.
The doctor may ask you a lot of questions, but you can ask questions, too -- that will help you get a better idea of your condition and possible treatments. (And if you have to see the counselor again, it can help you determine if you’re a good fit for each other.) Bring a journal so you can write down notes, if you’d like.
When you know what to expect, it can take the anxiety out of seeking help. From there, you can move forward to the treatment option that’s best for you.
Photo Credit: JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists: “Your First Appointment.”
Bains, N., et al. Major Depressive Disorder, StatPearls Publishing, 2022.
Stanford University: “Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).”
U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: “Prepare for a Behavioral Health Appointment.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Tips for Talking With a Health Care Provider About Your Mental Health.”
American Psychological Association: “Protecting Your Privacy: Understanding Confidentiality.”
Mental Health America: “Preparing For Appointments.”