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Summer Health and Safety

How to Talk to Your Healthcare Provider About Mental Health and Substance Use

As a physician, I have treated many patients who struggle with mental health and substance addiction issues.

It can be scary, but I want you to know you’re not alone. Support from friends and family, and asking for help from your healthcare provider, can help you stay on track.

Being open and honest with your doctor is an important step to getting the care you need. If you are going through a tough time and feel depressed and/or anxious, or if you are using substances like alcohol or opioids, use the following steps to talk to your healthcare provider.

Ask about confidentiality

You may be concerned your nurse or doctor will discuss what you talk about with others, so feel free to ask how private your conversation will be. Healthcare providers are obligated by law to protect patient privacy, except in very specific circumstances.

Be honest

Being upfront about your health and well-being helps your provider offer you the best care possible. For example, telling your doctor about how much you drink and what substances you use will help us diagnose and treat you. We aren’t here to judge you — we’re here to help you.

Tell your provider about what is going on and how you feel

Depression is a serious mood disorder. It’s also very common and can happen to anyone. Different people show different signs. You may have sadness or anxiety that doesn’t go away, loss of energy, or suicidal thoughts. There may also be signs of substance use disorder, such as craving a drug or feeling sick without it. It is important we know what is going in your life, and the symptoms you are feeling.

Find out about your treatment options

Both mental health concerns and substance use disorders can be treated with therapy and medication — recovery is possible with help. Some Planned Parenthood health centers may be able to identify symptoms and connect you with treatment so you can begin your path to healing.

Ask for a referral to a specialist

Mental health is just as important as physical, and there are professionals who can help you. Mental health and substance use challenges can be confusing and stressful — that’s why you should ask your provider for a referral to someone you trust so you can continue to receive the information and care you need to be healthy and well.

As the nation’s leading sexual and reproductive healthcare provider, and an advocate for all people, Planned Parenthood is committed to providing patients with expert, confidential, and compassionate care. We believe in the health, well-being, and dignity of every single patient, and we trust people to make their own fully-informed healthcare decisions. You can find more information at or your local Planned Parenthood health center.   

Leana Wen, M.D. President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, [email protected]

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