Do doctors routinely screen for mental health concerns?

Do doctors routinely screen for mental health concerns?

Everybody feels sad or anxious once in a while. But how do you know when those feelings become diagnosable as depression or anxiety? 

One way to find out is through seeing your primary care physician. It’s part of their routine to screen for signs of mental health problems during annual exams or visits for acute health concerns.  

“Screening for depression is part of our workflow,” says Dr. Kevin Koo, a family medicine physician at Advocate Health Care. “I feel better equipped when I’m able to take care of both the patient’s physical and mental health. Each part of a person’s life affects the others.” 

He adds that it’s part of the way family medicine physicians operate. They aim to cover as many potential concerns as possible in case a patient doesn’t come back regularly. Identifying potential problems gives a fuller picture of the patient’s health.

Screening for depression or anxiety starts before you enter the exam room. Whether you use the pre-check in option or fill out forms in the doctor’s office, you’ll answer questions about how often certain statements are true for you.

Examples include:

  • Having little interest or pleasure in doing things 
  • Feeling down, depressed or hopeless 

The questions you’re asked have been tested and proven to reliably identify when people are having significant mental health concerns. 

There are other ways that your primary care physician screens for mental illness. Dr. Koo says, “Everyone in our practice knows to be on the lookout for hints about a person’s mental well-being. Subtle body language cues may indicate deeper problems. When a medical assistant notes such things, it can give me an opening to follow up when I’m in the room.” 

In addition to questions about depression, you may be asked questions about feelings of anxiety. Dr. Koo says that’s partly because of recommendations to add screening for anxiety that came from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. He says that questions about anxiety will be added to prescreening forms. 

He also notes that people are often more open about talking about their emotional health than they used to be. That makes it easier for him to gather the information needed to know whether they might benefit from therapy, medication or referral to a specialist. You can count on your health care providers to help keep track of both your physical and mental well-being.  

Are you trying to find a doctor? Look here if you live in Illinois. Look here if you live in Wisconsin. 

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About the Author

Jo Linsley
Jo Linsley

Jo Linsley, a health enews contributor, is a freelance copywriter at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. With decades of experience in writing and editing, she continues to aspire to concise and inspiring writing. She also enjoys knitting and singing as creative outlets and for their meditative qualities.