Physicians should engage patients in conversation to assess mental health

Doctor-patient conversations about mental health aren't getting any easier, psychologist and author Richard Citrin, Ph.D., tells Physician's Money Digest.

"It's the same issue that [I've] seen for the past 30 years in practice. It's difficult to talk about mental health issues," he says.

There's still lots of misperceptions and stigma around mental illness. So what can physicians do to help their patients?

Engaging them in face-to-face conversations can help, he says. But only if you ask questions the right way.

If you ask a direction question, such as "Are you depressed, anxious or using drugs?" a patient is likely to answer no, Citrin tells the publication. Instead, ask open-ended questions such as, "What's going on in your life?" or "Tell me about some good things that are happening." If a patient says he or she is doing fine, probe a bit deeper.

Last month, a study found that fewer than one half of pediatricians screen their patients' mothers for depression. Pediatricians must consider the whole family when treating children and should ask about maternal depression, use a formal screening tool to detect problems, and then make sure that services are in place so mothers with depression receive help, the study's co-author Bonnie D. Kerker, Ph.D., said.

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