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How to Talk to a Gastroenterologist About Mental Health

In our four-part series of interviews with gastroenterologist Dr. Neilanjan Nandi, he will be answering questions on all-things IBD. Next up is Dr. Megan Riehl. She is a GI psychologist who specializes in the treatment of GI problems and anxiety-related disorders.

The two doctors sit down to talk about the importance of talking to your gastroenterologist about your mental health.

Treating the whole person

Dr. Riehl first asks Dr. Nandi, "What does it feel like when a patient brings up their mental health in a clinic visit with you?"

"It's refreshing, and it's important," Dr. Nandi says. He says that these types of conversations "rehumanize medicine," and it's important for doctors to be in touch with a patient's overall well-being.

"Am I just treating the disease? The gut?" he says. He emphasizes that IBD's impact on patients' mental, emotional, and spiritual health should not go undiscussed.

Normalizing mental health

Dr. Riehl goes on to talk about the bidirectional pathway between our brain and our gut. "What's happening in our gut impacts how we feel emotionally, and also how we feel emotionally can impact what's happening in our gut," she says. "And then all these other complexities of having a chronic illness."

She recommends that IBD patients take notice of symptoms of depression, sadness, overwhelm, or anxiety. And then to bring them up with someone on your care team.

"We really have to break down the stigma and the barriers of having these conversations with our patients on a regular basis," Dr. Riehl says.

Start the conversation

Both Dr. Nandi and Dr. Riehl agree that the most important step is getting the conversation started.

"It could just be, 'Hey doc, I'm struggling lately, is this normal?'" Dr. Riehl says. Your gastroenterologist or primary care physician may have more resources than you'd think. She adds, "Never be afraid to ask for what you need."

She also recommends connecting to the greater IBD community to feel supported in your experience.

"It is normal to have anxiety or concerns or mental health needs," Dr. Nandi says. "Your GI doctor can help introduce you to those resources."

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