Seeing as primary care practises are the number one contact point for professionals and people with mental health issues, I thought that it would be useful to create this guide. Especially seeing as the service itself can be, at present, a mixed bag in terms of its usefulness. I hope this is particularly helpful for those who wish to broach the subject of their mental health issues with their GP for the first time – discussing the state of your mind and negative thoughts with a stranger can be a daunting prospect.
Rest assured however, with some preparation and a willingness to talk about your problems , these consultations can go a long way to improving your own quality of life!
You might first it useful to watch this short video below just to familiarise yourself with how a GP surgery and its staff operate:
Now, without further ado, here are 5 helpful tips for approaching your GP and getting the helpful response that you deserve:
Book a double appointment
I think most of us would agree that attempting to discuss the complexities of your mental illness in the time span of 7-10 minutes is a challenge to say the least.
Yet it is possible, and certainly advisable to book a double appointment in cases such as these. While this kind of appointment is usually recommended if you have a ‘shopping list’ of issues that you want to present to your GP, I think many of us would agree that having that little bit of extra time to open up not only relives some of the pressure off the situation but it might provoke a more accurate response as to how you can get treatment.
A double appointment usually allows you around 20 minutes with your doctor as opposed to just 10 -so make the most of it!
Make a list
Mental health issues are, on the whole, more complex and thus require more in depth analysis than physical difficulties.
When making this list (before your scheduled appointment!) consider things such as:
-The state of your mood in the last few weeks – has it been a continuous low ebb or has it fluctuated wildly? Only you can answer this.
-Whether some major event in your life has triggered any bouts of anxiety or depression.
-You could even print off relevant web pages that you may feel succinctly describe how you feel and show them to your doctor.
-Don’t forget to write down a few questions you want to ask your GP! Especially if you want them to explain something you don’t understand or if you simply want to know what happens next!
By making a list of all of the physical and mental symptoms you’re experiencing and so on, you not only compartmentalize the emotional pain you’re feeling onto paper , but the chances of you forgetting to remember something you will later regret not mentioning are minimized.
See your GP at the beginning – or at the end of the day
For as much flak as GPs get for not being as helpful as they often could be, it is only fair to keep in mind that they are extraordinarily busy people, and have to handle a wide range of medical issues often within a short space of time.
So for those of us who are perhaps struggling majorly with our mental health and cannot wait for an appointment in a few weeks time, it is always worth asking if this would be possible – a good GP who cares for his/her patients is more than likely to offer to see you during one of these time periods, even if it does mean a shortened tea break!
Be as open and as honest as you can
Unlike the people you may come across on a daily basis, GPs are trained to deal with sensitive issues, such as mental illness, in a professional and supportive manner. They are not there to judge you ( if this presents itself as an issue you entitled to ask to see another GP – more on that below) but to ascertain what the best course of action might be to help you. Be as open as you can, and focus on what feelings/emotions you are going through.
Also keep in mind that you are entitled to legal confidentiality – which means that, whatever is said in that room will stay between you and your GP. The only exceptions to this are if anything you say indicates that you could be a harm to yourself or others.
You can even ask a friend or family member to come with you if you feel like this would help. Sometimes having that support from someone that you know and trust can make the world of difference! Alternatively some surgeries have a ‘chaperone’ on standby if you don’t feel as though you want those close to you to be present yet could do with some emotional support – just ask at reception to see if this option would be available to you.
Choose a GP who is right for you
Just like in all professions, there are good GPs and there are bad GPs – there is no use in trying sugarcoat this fact. However, if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being presented with the latter, aside from filing a formal complaint against said doctor under the please know that it is in your interests to ask to be transferred to a different, and perhaps more helpful GP.
There are several options available in this regard:
- You can request to have a male or female GP if that would make you feel more comfortable.
- You can enquire at reception to see if there is a GP with a specialist interest in mental health – and ask to see them.
- Perhaps you simply desire a second opinion on whether the suggested route of treatment is the right one for you.
- Additionally, take a look at England’s NHS Choices website, as it lists customer reviews and provides a Patient Survey score for each practice.
It is also worth noting that even if English is not your first language, you are entitled to have an interpreter in the room with you – though this arrangement would need to made a few weeks in advance. Or, as a last resort, the surgery can arrange telephone interpretation.
On a final note, just keep in mind that preparation is key! Make sure that you are not in a rush when travelling to your appointment, and that you explain to your doctor if you feel nervous on the day – if they’re in any way adept at their job they will understand!
Some useful links
If there is anything else you feel could/should be added to this list then please let me know!
I am always open to suggestions and am happy to amend this article where appropriate. Other than that I wish you good luck, and know that, even it will take some patience, you will find a way in which to mange your mental illness one day. We’re all in this together!
Emotional support helplines:
Samaritans :116 123
Sane Line:0845 767 8000