By: Amy Tran, ASW
Meeting a psychiatrist for the first time to discuss medication can be a daunting task. After all, you’re delving into your health history, including mental health with someone who is essentially a stranger. But psychiatrists are here to help find medication that suits your needs! They’re trained to help you manage those emotions in the most supportive and effective ways possible. They will meet you where you are, easing you into the process and allowing you to take the wheel.
That said, knowing what to expect and how to prepare for that first visit can still ease a lot of tensions. Here’s what to know:
1. Come prepared!
Broadly, your psychiatrist will want to discuss both your history and current relationship with mental health. Make sure to prepare any documents that might provide context to those two topics. Here’s a list of materials you might want to prepare:
- Your current mental health concerns and any outstanding or previous diagnoses
- A list of all psychiatric medications you have taken in the past and for how long
- A list of medication you currently take for any other health conditions
- Your personal history with mental health issues
- Your family history with mental health / psychiatric issues
Beyond the boilerplate personal information though, your psychiatrist will also want to know how you are currently feeling, what solutions you’ve tried in the past, and what priorities you have in your treatment plan. They want your perspective and opinions in order to support your mental health journey. One good strategy to prepare is to write down a list of your recent emotions, symptoms, such as sleep quality, energy, appetite, and your motivations for coming in. This will help you remember what you want to communicate to your psychiatrist and also paint them the clearest picture of your current mental health status.
2. Treat your visit as a conversation
Your psychiatrist will want to have a conversation with you to better learn about your mental health concerns from your perspective. One tip to make this easier is to treat it as a conversation – definitely ask questions about things you might not understand fully! It should not feel like an interrogation or interview as you both have the shared goal of improving your health.
It can also be useful to get to know your psychiatrist as well, making sure you are keeping in mind the boundaries of the professional relationship. This is someone who will be helping you throughout your mental health journey for the foreseeable future, and it’s definitely worth it to try to establish rapport and a friendly relationship with them.
You may not be given a diagnosis immediately, especially if you have little previous history with psychiatric issues. Many psychiatrists will ask you to fill out assessments to supplement your interpersonal conversation in an effort to hone the target on your diagnosis. By completing these assessments in your next visits also, you can see a more objective measurement of your progress over time.
You can usually expect to have a diagnosis and treatment plan by the end of the first or second session. The first visit does not always involve being prescribed medication, especially if you are not feeling quite ready for that. For some, it is to start a trial of medication and adjust as needed. For others, the first meeting is simply to establish rapport and explore possible options.
The treatment plan that a psychiatrist assigns you may include therapist referrals and medication plans. Some may have you take a pharmacogenetic test to better tailor your medication to your DNA because your genes can drive a significant part of your response to medications.
Your psychiatrist will outline the level of care that your treatment plan is meant to account for and also outline the best way to manage your medication and care strategy. They will help tie together the different parts of your care (testing, medications, relationships with other mental health professionals) as you head into the next phase of your mental health journey.
5. The first visit is usually the longest
The first appointment is generally longer because you and your psychiatrist are laying the foundations for building a suitable treatment plan for you, and getting to know you better. You can expect to run through the aforementioned background information, have a conversation with your psychiatrist, and potentially receive a diagnosis and treatment plan.
After the initial meeting, appointments often run around 30 minutes or less. With some providers such as Prairie Health, however, you will have access to a trained mental health professional at all times if you have questions or concerns about your medication, your progress, or anything regarding your treatment and mental health.
First visit completed! What do I do now?
Take notes! You might remember things you forgot that you want to bring up during your next visit or want to record some key points that your psychiatrist emphasized. Your psychiatrist will go through specific next steps at the end of your visit, so it should be relatively straightforward in terms of what to do next.
If you feel a bit uncomfortable following your first visit, don’t fret! Meeting a psychiatrist and receiving a treatment plan can serve as a large development in your mental health world, and developing a relationship with your doctor can take more than one visit. Unless you felt your experience was irredeemably horrible, it’s best to go back and see how you enjoy your next few visits.
Psychiatry is worth it!
At the end of the day, working with your doctor is only going to help you. Despite the appointment anxiety you might encounter, getting your feelings off your chest to a trusted confidant and acquiring appropriate medication can do a world of good for your mental health.
At Prairie Health, meetings with a psychiatrist are included as a part of our $99/mo care plan, a steep markdown from the traditional $300+ it usually costs to meet with a psychiatrist. After intake with your Care Partner, some appointments with psychiatrists can be available within the same week, whereas normally it might take 2-3 additional weeks. Regardless of what psychiatrist you work with, know that you’re taking an important step by prioritizing working with a professional to improve your mental health.