If you’ve never talked about your mental health, the idea of opening up can be scary. For many of us, our doctor is the first person we do this with. But with some advice from our writer, who’s gone through this herself, it can be a beneficial experience
If you’re concerned about your mental health, you may be wondering whether you should talk to your GP about what you’re experiencing, and how they could help. We’ve put together some guidance to help you navigate your doctor’s appointment because it should never be scary – and we all deserve support.
“For me, the decision to go to the doctor about my mental health was prompted when I had to leave the office because of my anxiety symptoms. I’d only been experiencing symptoms for a couple of weeks, but they were so overwhelming I had to see someone.
The doctor I saw was very sympathetic and mentioned that he’d also suffered from anxiety. He advised that I refer myself for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and go back to see him if this didn’t help so we could explore other options like medication and time off work.
I felt a huge weight off my shoulders as the process was underway. I got an appointment with a CBT therapist within two weeks, and just the act of going to the doctor and kicking things off helped me to feel more in control.”
The first question you may be asking is: “When is it OK to go to my doctor for help?” The answer is always. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, your feelings are affecting your day-to-day routine, or you simply want to find out what support is available, seeing your doctor can help.
Your doctor can help you understand your feelings, talk you through treatment options, and advise on any lifestyle changes. They may refer you to a specialist and/or invite you back for follow-up appointments.
When you make your appointment, it’s helpful to know what your rights are:
You can ask to see a male or female doctor
You can request to see a doctor you already know and trust
You can book a double appointment (appointments are normally 10 minutes, so a double appointment will be 20 minutes)
Once you are happy with the appointment you’ve made, you can start preparing.
If you’re feeling nervous, there are some things you can do to feel more prepared:
Write down what you want to say and any questions you have (Doc Ready is a great website that can help you put together a checklist – www.docready.org)
If you’ve spoken to a friend/family member about what you’re going through, you could practise what you want to say with them.
Print out any helpful information you’ve found regarding how you’re feeling.
Consider taking someone with you to the appointment. Remember, you’re not the only person going through this. 30% of doctor’s appointments are related to people’s mental health.
Being as honest as possible is key, and remember there’s no right way to explain how you feel – you don’t have to neatly fit into a diagnosis to get support. Describe how you’re feeling in a way that’s natural for you.
Your doctor may ask some questions about your medical history, your mood, thoughts and any behaviour changes. They might also carry out some tests to rule out any physical causes.
Everything you say in your appointment will remain confidential. Your doctor may recommend you tell other people or ask permission to tell others on your behalf, but this won’t happen if you say no.
The only time your doctor might break confidentiality is if they’re worried you or someone else is at risk of harm.
Following your appointment, you should have a good understanding of what will happen next. You can arrange a follow-up appointment to check back in with your doctor, but if you’re not happy with how the appointment went or want a second opinion, you can ask for this. Sometimes seeing a different doctor can make all the difference.
You can also make a formal complaint. All doctor’s surgeries should have a complaints procedure on their website explaining what you need to do. But try not to let a negative experience stop you from reaching out for help. There are different avenues you can try, from seeing a different doctor to seeking private treatment. Whichever route you go down, know you’re not alone and that there are people willing to support you.