When a Friend, Family Member Comes to a Doctor’s Appointment
Some of us are lucky enough to have really supportive loved ones and, sometimes, a friend or family member might come to our doctors’ appointments. If this is the case for you, consider yourself lucky because it can be very helpful. I’m not suggesting that you drag someone to your psychiatrist’s appointment by his or her hair or that you invite people with whom you are not comfortable, but if a friend or family member coming to a doctor’s appointment is an option for you, I say, take it.
What Are the Benefits to a Loved One Coming to a Doctor’s Appointment?
The fact is, there are actually great benefits to having a family member or friend join you in a doctor’s appointment. Believe me, a second pair of ears and an additional brain can be welcome when yours isn’t quite up to snuff, which happens, especially when you’re not feeling well.
Here are just some of the benefits of a loved one joining you in a doctor’s appointment:
- You know that you will go to your doctors’ appointments if someone will be joining you.
- Your loved one can develop a relationship with your doctor so that if things go wrong in the future (perhaps you become psychotic) everyone is more capable of working in conjunction and helping you.
- Someone else can have a different view of your symptoms and give this “outsider” view and, perhaps, more accurate view, to your doctor.
- Someone else can remind you of all the things you wanted to talk about (because people often forget, quite naturally).
- A friend or family member can help you remember exactly what your doctor said when you feel like you’re suffering from information overload.
- A family member or friend may ask great questions that you didn’t think to ask (like about side effects, for example).
- A loved one can be your backup and your support when you have to talk about something tough or something that your doctor doesn’t want to hear.
- Someone, not just you, can hold your doctor accountable for treatment decisions and outcomes.
All of these things are an aspect of supporting a loved one with a mental illness and we appreciate all of these things.
If You’re Joining Someone at Their Doctor’s Appointment
If you’re the one going to someone else’s psychiatric appointment, you should know that we do appreciate it, but there still should be ground rules. For example, there may be things the person with the mental illness is not willing to talk about. You need to respect this. You should have a discussion with the person with the mental illness before you get to the doctor’s office to find out what kind of support the person with the mental illness really needs. We’re all different so what feels like support to me, might feel like smothering to someone else.
Also, understand that you’re walking in on a very important relationship and you need to respect the existing relationship and not allow any of your own feelings to impact it. For example, if the doctor last prescribed your loved one a medication that didn’t work and you feel angry about it, it’s not appropriate to rage at the doctor. This can harm the patient-doctor relationship. You need to deal with your own emotions before your get there and handle a doctor’s appointment in a rational and objective way that will help, and not harm, all involved.
Tips on Attending Someone Else’s Doctor’s Appointment
Things you can do to help a person with a mental illness in a doctor’s appointment include:
- Do your mental illness research before you go to get up to speed on what’s going on with treatment.
- Write down all the issues you and the person with the mental illness want to discuss before you get there.
- Offer to drive to the appointment and make sure to put it on your calendar so that neither of you miss it.
- Write down what happens in the doctor’s appointment because one or both of you may forget the details.
- Bring in relevant research that you or the patient are interested in talking about. (Print out pages from the internet, for example. It’s much better to be able to refer to a specific study or page rather than just say, “I read online . . ..”)
- If a prescription is given, offer to take the person to the drug store so it can get filled right away.
What If Your Loved One Doesn’t Want You at the Doctor Appointment?
If you’re wanting to go to your loved one’s doctor’s appointment but he or she doesn’t want you there, you need to respect this (unless, possibly, the person is a minor). While your offer may be coming from a great place, you might just not be the right person to take on that role or it just might not be the right time. Don’t take this personally. Remember, this is about supporting the person with the mental illness and not about you.