“Talk to your GP” is the number one bit of advice given in every advice article about mental health. It’s a good ‘un too, because burying your head in the sand when it comes to your mental health is never a good idea. But how do you talk to your GP about mental health?
What if you’re too anxious to go to your GP, or what if you don’t think you can find the words to describe how you’ve been feeling? What if your GP judges you? (This never happens, but in our minds it absolutely does).
Stats show that men are less likely to visit their GP than women, and we know it’s difficult to talk about our mental health. So we got GP Rhianna McClymont from online GP service Livi to share her advice for when you finally make that doctor’s appointment.
How to talk to your GP about mental health
When should I ask for help?
As a rule of thumb, you should look for help if your mental health starts to impact your everyday life, or if you feel that you’re struggling to manage the problem by yourself. In these cases, you can book yourself into a GP for an appointment.
In more severe cases, and if you have any thoughts about harming yourself or others, you should refer yourself to a local mental health crisis team, or consider checking in to A&E, where there are psychiatric liaison teams onsite.
Dr McClymont says: “Getting help early can limit the impact that a mental health problem has on you, your mood, and the quality of your life. If you need specialised help for mental health, a GP can refer you to a psychiatry team. Anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns are common, and nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.”
Should I prepare for my appointment beforehand?
While you won’t need to do any in-depth prep for your appointment, it’s a good idea to know in advance what you want to talk about, what particular issues you want to address, and whether you want a friend or family member to join the appointment with you.
Dr McClymont says: “Knowing what you want to talk about can make your appointment much more effective when it comes to dealing with issues. It can also be a good idea to write your feelings down before your appointment. This will give you much more information to share with your GP that you might otherwise forget.
“You should also be prepared to inform your GP of any drugs or medication that you’re taking, as these can sometimes impact your mental health. Whether the drugs are prescription or recreational, legal or illegal, being honest with your GP will help them address the problem.”
What will the appointment be like?
Your GP will ask a series of questions about how you’re feeling and what issues you’re experiencing. They may also ask you about your family’s medical history to determine whether that could be a factor. In some cases, the GP may conduct some physical checks, such as a blood pressure test.
Dr McClymont says: “Sometimes, talking about your feelings, traumatic events in your past, or your own triggers for mental illness can be difficult. Take your time, but do try to bring up anything you feel could be important, as it will help you get the right treatment.”
And no – the doctor won’t judge you. Mental health issues are experienced by a whopping 1 in 4 of us, so whatever you’re struggling with, you can guarantee that your doctor has dealt with it before.
What might the GP recommend?
The first step your GP will take is to determine whether there are any lifestyle changes that can be made to address your problems. This can include activities like stopping smoking, reducing the amount of alcohol you’re drinking, or changing to alternative prescription medication.
If further treatment is needed, then your doctor might suggest that you begin taking antidepressants, refer you to counselling or other therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and may recommend a nearby charity or organisation that can help.
Dr McClymont says: “Sometimes a change in lifestyle is all that’s needed to improve your mental health. Things like smoking or drinking can start as a coping mechanism to deal with things like stress at work, but they can quickly become contributing factors to the deterioration of your mental health. In other cases, we may find that direct treatment, whether through medication or counselling, is the best option.”
Are there other forms of help?
There are lots of groups and organisations that have been set up to help people with mental health problems, and to allow people suffering to be able to communicate their experiences to others who have faced similar issues.
You can also talk about your mental health with friends and family or write about your experiences in a journal. These techniques can often help you deal with mental health problems by relieving some of the burden through confiding in others. However, it’s important to state that you should always seek additional help if this doesn’t seem to be working.
Dr McClymont says: ‘There are many different mental health charities available that are excellent at offering advice and further support if needed. If you have health problems that are affecting your work, it may also be helpful to talk to your manager or HR department. You don’t need to disclose more than you’re comfortable with, but it can give you another avenue for practical support.
“Mental health problems are often incredibly difficult to talk to others about, however opening up about your struggles is often the first step in overcoming them. Seeking medical help or advice in times of personal crisis is a hugely important part of dealing with the problem and should never be taken as a sign of weakness.”
For more information on talking about your mental health problems, the Livi website has some great advice here.
Livi lets patients see a GP by video in minutes – on their mobile or tablet. Because when you’re ill you want to see a doctor fast and from wherever you are. Livi’s service is available for free through the NHS for patients of its partner GP practices.
Livi’s goal is to improve the UK’s health, one patient at a time. To date, its platform has hosted over 3,000,000 patient appointments across Europe and has a patient satisfaction score of 4.9 stars.
For more information, visit: https://www.livi.co.uk/about/