You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions (psychiatrist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Write down any symptoms you've had, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
- Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all of the information provided to you during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor may be limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. For problems related to bipolar disorder, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- Do I have bipolar disorder?
- Are there any other possible causes for my symptoms?
- What kinds of tests will I need?
- What treatments are available? Which do you recommend for me?
- What side effects are possible with that treatment?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
- I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?
- Should I see a psychiatrist or other mental health provider?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing me?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend visiting?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:
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- When did you or your loved ones first begin noticing your symptoms of depression, mania or hypomania?
- How frequently do your moods change?
- Do you ever have suicidal thoughts when you're feeling down?
- How severe are your symptoms? Do they interfere with your daily life or relationships?
- Do you have any blood relatives with bipolar disorder or another mood disorder?
- What other mental or physical health conditions do you have?
- Do you drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or use street drugs?
- How much do you sleep at night? Does it change over time?
- Do you go through periods when you take risks you wouldn't normally take, such as unsafe sex or unwise, spontaneous financial decisions?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
- Bipolar disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/complete-index.shtml. Accessed Nov. 2, 2011.
- Bipolar disorders. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric_disorders/mood_disorders/bipolar_disorders.html#v1028598. Accessed Nov. 2, 2011.
- Mood disorders. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR. 4th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2000. http://www.psychiatryonline.com. Accessed Nov. 3, 2011.
- Practice parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with bipolar disorder. Washington, D.C.: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/member_information/practice_information/practice_parameters/practice_parameters. Accessed Nov. 2, 2011.
- Joska JA. Mood disorders. In: Hales RE, et al. The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2008. http://www.psychiatryonline.com/pracGuide/pracGuideChapToc_8.aspx. Accessed Nov. 3, 2011.
- Martinez M, et al. Psychopharmacology. In: Hales RE, et al. The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2008. http://www.psychiatryonline.com/content.aspx?aID=320111. Accessed Nov. 3, 2011.
- Post RM. Bipolar disorder in adults: Maintenance treatment. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Nov. 2, 2011.
- Andreescu C, et al. Complementary and alternative medicine in the treatment of bipolar disorder: A review of the evidence. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2008;110:16.
- Sarris J, et al. Bipolar disorder and complementary medicine: Current evidence, safety issues, and clinical considerations. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2011;17:881.
- Hall-Flavin DK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Nov. 8, 2011.
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