Visiting the GP for your Mental Health

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Going to the doctor about any illness can be difficult. It is, after all, a stressful ordeal because when you’re going to the doctor it means that you are feeling unwell in some way. The same rings true for visiting your GP for the first time about a mental health problem. All sorts of questions may arise.

What do I say? How do I explain what I feel has been wrong with me? How do I talk about something that I may find difficult to put into words? What if they are not understanding or empathetic about mental health difficulties? What if they tell me I’m just fine and that I need to get on with it? These are all part of normal concerns.

My very first time I went to my GP about my eating disorder I was dragged as a reluctant 15 year old, confiscated diary in hand. She didn’t read it; I said I didn’t want her to. I received help but all I managed to say was, “I don’t like eating”. This was followed by a trip to the weighing scales and followed by a referral to the local CAMHS team.

The most difficult time though, was going back after relapse from recovery. Admitting I wasn’t ok again was difficult, and painful. I was 20 and again trying to deny that anything was wrong. I couldn’t speak for myself about my difficulties and relied heavily on my partner to explain why she had taken me in the first place. Yes, she took me. I couldn’t and didn’t go on my own, nor on my own accord. I was very fortunate to get a wonderful GP who really understands and empathises with emotional and mental health difficulties. She acknowledges them in a sensitive and caring way. That still doesn’t mean that it was easy, but there are a number of ways around this that can help ease the difficulty of talking about difficult feelings, or experiences, and trying to cross that initial hurdle towards getting the help and support you may need.

Sometimes saying it out loud to a stranger can feel daunting. One way of managing this is to go prepared. What are you going to say? What is importantly? How about a back up piece of paper in case you freeze up, forget, or are unable to initiate the conversation. After all admitting to, “I’m not coping” or, “I’m hearing voices” can be really difficult. Handing a prepared piece of paper over, or using the as a conversation guidance can ease the conversation to a start.

– Enlist your support network. Maybe it’s a close friend, a partner, parent, brother or sister. Even just having someone come with you to the waiting room can help ease the stress. At least then, when you come out you have someone to talk to about it, or not talk to about it but either way, someone is there.
– If they can’t be there in person, let someone know what you are doing and hopefully they can at least be on the end of the phone for when you come out.
– It is ok to ask the receptionist which Dr is the most sensitive, or better at helping with mental health illnesses.
– Describe your experiences truthfully and as clearly as you are able. Don’t go in diagnosing yourself as that is the job of the doctor. If you explain how hard you have been finding things, or how you are affected, you are more likely to be steered towards the right direction for getting help by the doctor; that is their job, not yours. Explain why you are concerned, or why you are having a hard time.
– Engage as best you can. If they offer a referral to IAPTS then take it. Even if you think you may need longer than the 6 week therapy on offer they can decide that when you get to there. There are services therefor those who need the, be they specialist psychosis teams, or eating disorder units, or a specific course of CBT help for example.
– Be prepared to wait, work hard, and persevere. Recovering from a mental health illness is hard, and sometimes a long and winding road but with the help of professionals and some hard perseverance, it can and often does get better.
– Reward yourself afterwards. Talking about your mental health can be difficult, especially if you are having a hard time. Relax. Go for a coffee, a walk, or listen to some music on your way to help stay calm and recover from the stress on the appointment should there be any,
– Be honest, if you aren’t honest about how bad things are for you, then how will they know?
– If the Dr you see isn’t helpful for you, ask to see someone else.
– Finally, don’t forget to breathe. Deep breathes in, and deep breathes out using you stomach. It is going to be ok.

Also, if you have to wait a while to get support and things get worse don’t be afraid to go to A&E. Especially if you are having thoughts of serious self harm or suicide. That is an emergency and you have every right to go to A&E. If you find it difficult to talk to the receptionist, again, it is ok to write it down on a piece of paper to hand over. I have done this in the past and they are fine with it.

Good luck!