Talking Depression: Diagnosing depression and preparing for appointments

Diagnosing depression and preparing for appointments

Diagnosis is an important first step to get the help that you need when living with severe depression. By speaking to a healthcare professional (HCP) about how you are feeling, you are giving yourself the best opportunity to connect with the right support.1

The type of HCP that you need to see will depend on several factors: whether it’s your first time seeking professional support; the intensity of the symptoms you’re experiencing; and the extent to which your depression symptoms are affecting your life.

  • The GP or family doctor will provide any referrals that are needed for mental health services. When the depression is mild and a recent development, the GP can manage treatment which may include medication and/or a referral to psychotherapy.
  • If the condition is more moderate to severe in nature, or you have received a diagnosis and require further care, the GP can refer to local mental health services, this potentially may include an appointment with a psychiatrist.
  • Some people can be particularly nervous about speaking with a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist conducts a full assessment covering what’s going on in your life, any past treatments you have had and any medical conditions you live with. This allows them to develop a clear understanding of the situation and to collaborate with you on a plan for treatment.

Your GP can support you to find the appropriate care for you, at every stage of your experience. This may include additional referrals to other doctors or returning visits to a psychiatrist depending on your situation and current care needs.

The first step is to schedule an appointment.

  • Many people find it difficult to speak on the phone when organising their appointments. You can ask someone close to you to make the initial call if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself.
  • When scheduling your appointment, consider if your emotional state is affected by the time of day, whether that’s morning or evening, and aim to get a slot that suits you best.

Once your appointment is confirmed, you may experience some apprehension or anxiety about attending. Remember that feeling nervous about attending an upcoming appointment is completely normal. Taking some time to prepare in advance might help.

Being prepared will enable you to make the most of your interaction with the doctor, reducing the feeling of being caught off-guard or forgetting important details. Take a few minutes to collect your thoughts and organise your questions.

Before your appointment

Let a family member or friend know in advance if you would like them to join you at your appointments and explain what you hope to achieve during your visit.

It is a good idea to write down what you would like to talk about before the meeting. This might feel strange at first, but it can help as it’s easy to forget things in the moment.

Take a few minutes before your appointment to write down a list of things you want to discuss, such as:

  • How you are feeling.
  • How your mood affects your daily life and activities.
  • Any unusual events that have bothered you and how they make you feel.
  • Key medical information, including your medical history, other physical or mental health conditions, and the names and amounts of medications, herbal remedies or supplements that you take.
  • Anything that was unclear after previous meetings with them or other HCPs.

During the appointment

It is important to be as honest as possible about how you are feeling. Remind yourself that there will be no judgment during this interaction and the HCP is there to help. These appointments are an opportunity to explore the support available to you.

Don’t be afraid of saying that you need the conversation to slow down or for something to be repeated or explained further.

You or your companion can take notes on what the HCP says during the appointment to review later.

Depending on the stage of your journey, you might also want to discuss the following:

  • What is my diagnosis and what does it mean?
  • What kind of depression do I have?
  • What are the immediate next steps?
  • What is the ultimate aim of my treatment plan?
  • Ask ‘what’s next?’ at the end of the appointment if you are not clear.

After the appointment

If your HCP doesn’t schedule a follow-up appointment shortly after you begin treatment, you may need to ask for this.

Feel free to request copies of the clinic letters that will be produced after each appointment. These can be useful to keep and refer to when reflecting on your progress.

Doing your own research on your condition can make you feel more confident when discussing your options with your HCP. It can also help you to understand how other people with similar symptoms manage their condition.

You might find it helpful to:

  • Research the specific type of depression you live with from reputable sources based on your diagnosis
  • Stay informed of your treatment options through reliable sources like the World Health Organisation (WHO) and GAMIAN-Europe websites.

If you are supporting someone who lives with depression, be proactive by helping them to prepare for their appointments.

Remember that seeking professional help may seem daunting to your loved one, so offering practical support can encourage them to follow through.

  • Offer to help find a doctor or therapist for them to speak to.
  • Suggest a general check-up with a GP – your loved one may be less anxious about seeing a family doctor than a mental health professional. This can be a helpful option as the doctor can make a referral to a specialist if depression is diagnosed.
  • Offer to accompany them on the first visit.
  • Encourage them to make a list of their symptoms to discuss with the healthcare professional. This can help them feel more prepared for the first visit.
  • Help them to create an overview of their medical history or list any questions they want to ask.
  • Offer to take notes to help you both remember what the HCP said and review their advice in more detail.

Supporting someone with depression can be a challenging task that requires effort and energy to sustain. Remember to look after yourself too and seek support if you need it. To learn more about supportive resources available, visit here.

You may be interested in

Understanding your journey through depression
Treatment Options for Depression
Building your support network while coping with depression
  1. NHS. Treatment – Clinical Depression. Available at: Accessed: January 2024.