What Doctors Should Know About Patients With Anxiety

Stephen Fratello
Thinking about going to the doctor creates stress and anxiety for me. Actually going can bring on a panic attack. This has given me a reputation with doctors and creates a problem for me. I am torn between disclosing my anxiety diagnosis and trying to hide it — albeit hard.
In my experience, doctors would trace every symptom back to my anxiety. It took me years to find a specialist who took me seriously and believed that some of my physical symptoms were not manifestations of anxiety, but had actual physical causes.

I am aware that anxiety can manifest itself in the body in unusual and surprising ways, but that shouldn’t be cause for neglect of the patient. Sometimes physical illnesses are overlooked and not treated properly because a patient has a mental illness.

Doctors need to understand the needs of the patient and accommodate them to the best of their ability. To help and to heal, not create more damage and harm. Sometimes they might need a reminder.

If you are a doctor who has a patient with anxiety or any other mental health condition, please consider the following:

Understand we are people. We need a little extra kindness and compassion.We might already be nervous and anxious about being there. Try to do whatever you can to create a relaxing environment.

Listen to what we have to say. If you don’t take us seriously or brush us off, that can make us feel even more isolated and alone, and feel that we may never find someone who understands us. All we want is relief.1 If I tell you my stomach is constantly bothering me, order a CT scan or an actual test. Don’t tell me to take more anxiety meds and try to relax. Your job is to explore all possibilities. And while anxiety might be one of them, it is not allof them.

Reassure us that you heard us and understand us. Explain things to us in a way we can easily understand, and let us participate in our treatment. You may know medicine, but we know our bodies.

Understand that what you write down in our chart will follow us to other specialists and doctors, and that what you write about us might be what other doctors will believe, too. This might prevent us from getting the care that we really need.

The bottom line is that people with anxiety can get sick in their bodies. People with mental illnesses can get physically sick. We need proper care. We deserve it.

A special thank you to the few, but great doctors out there who have taken me seriously and explored all the options.

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