Bookmark These Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before Starting New Mental Health Meds

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A few years ago, I started taking medication for my generalized anxiety disorder. But when the doctor asked if I had any questions, my mind went totally blank. Like, not even a blip of brain activity. I left wondering if I should have piped up, but convinced myself that my doctor would have covered anything important I should know. Cue the dramatic music, because a few months later, I had gained weight and was experiencing other side effects I hadn't expected.

"It's important to come up with a list of questions because the patient knows their body and routine and life better than I ever will," says Amanda Porter, psychiatric nurse practitioner at Lindner Center of HOPE who is board-certified in internal medicine, psychiatry, and addictions. "The patient is their own best advocate."

"It's important to come up with a list of questions because the patient knows their body and routine and life better than I ever will." —Amanda Porter, psychiatric nurse practitioner

The first order of business is writing your questions about medications—or any other treatments—down. "It's easy to become overwhelmed or forget questions you may have when sitting with your doctor," Nikole Benders-Hadi, clinical psychiatrist at Doctor On Demand, says. "When you write down questions in advance, you're more likely to get all your concerns addressed."

Having a list can also help you overcome any butterflies that might flutter up at the thought of asking questions. "If the provider is open to receiving emails or MyChart messages from the patient, this can be another way to communicate questions that the patient feels too nervous to ask in person," Porter says.

"When it comes to decisions about one's health, which includes decisions about taking prescription medications, no question is ever too small or silly," licensed psychologist Nicole Beurkens, PhD, says. So seriously, don't be embarrassed to ask questions. With that in mind, I asked the experts to share the questions about medications they think everyone should ask their doctor before starting a new mental health prescription. Here's what they said.

Basic questions

These are the vanilla questions, if you will. They're basic, but super important.

Should I take this with food?

What time of day should I take this?

What other medications should I not take with this?

Can I drink alcohol with this?

How often will I need to see you to monitor my medication and symptoms?

Questions about medications' side effects

Being aware of all of the possible side effects of your medication is important for a host of reasons. Make sure you go through them thoroughly with your doctor—this shouldn't feel like a list being read at the end of a medication commercial.

What are the common and uncommon side effects associated with this medication?

What should I do if I noticed these side effects?

Questions about other treatment options

Medication is necessary for some people, and that's nothing to be ashamed about. Sometimes, there are other approaches that can be used in conjunction with medication.

What other treatments do you recommend in addition to (or before) the medication?

Are you supportive of me trying non-medication options (nutritional supplements, counseling, acupuncture, meditation, etc.) to treat symptoms while I’m on medication?

Questions about stopping the medication

Quitting mental health medication—or really, any medication—cold turkey is generally not recommended, which is why it's important to know what the process for stopping it will be like before you start it. (For instance, I had no idea that quitting Lexapro, the medication I take, comes with a variety of physical and mental symptoms.)

If the medication isn’t helping me, can I stop it? If so, how do I stop it?

Can I periodically stop the medication to see if I still need it? How and when would I do this?

Questions about improvement while on the medication

You're taking the medication to get better, so it's important to have an idea of how you will improve and what the timeline for improvements will be.

What are the specific symptoms you're aiming to treat with this medication?

How will we know if this medication is working? What should I see in terms of improvements?

Questions about the doctor's overall approach

You and your doctor should jive—not like, you need to hang out on weekends or anything, but it's good to get a sense of their treatment style and how they feel about holistic approaches.

Will you support me if I decide to stop this medication, or decide to not use medication?

What other treatments and strategies do you recommend I try before using medication?

If this medication does not improve symptoms, what would you recommend next?

What is your approach to medication? Do you try one at a time? Do you use multiple medications at once?

These are the 6 myths a therapist says we need to stop believing about depression. And, here's exactly how to ask your boss for a mental health day off—because your mental health is just as important as your physical health. 

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