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Antidepressants

Getting to the doctor – seeking help for depression

People may feel depressed for a long time before seeing a doctor. Often it’s only looking back that they realise how long they had been struggling, in some cases for many years or even since childhood. Typically people seek help when things are at crisis point. It can be difficult for people to recognise the signs of depression, to know that treatments exist that might help, or to admit that something is wrong.
 
Asking a doctor for help with emotional distress can feel a big step. Gerry said the hardest part was accepting that he had depression and needed help with things. Going to the doctor was a positive step - he felt he was ‘tackling things head on’.
 

Lucy X accepted that she needed help and talking about it with...

Lucy X accepted that she needed help and talking about it with...

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 15
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What a lot of people don’t understand is going to the doctor the first time and explaining is just like, I mean the first time I did it I just like, I think I just cried for ten minutes and didn’t say anything and then you know it all slowly sort of came out. And then it’s just such a like as you said... you’re at your lowest and it’s like a complete oh it’s such a big thing and especially if you’re like myself you kept it very to myself to suddenly have to be like this is what’s happening was, I mean that would be another thing for people you know health professionals to realise what a big step someone has made when they originally turn up. I mean one they’ve accepted it personally which is a huge thing and accepted they need help and now they’re coming to find it. But they also have to open up to probably someone who is a complete stranger it’s like yes it’s a huge thing to like you know to maybe have a bit more respect and understanding for how big a thing that really is for people.
Some people are prompted to see the GP when a friend or relative has noticed they are struggling and suggested they should get some help. Max had had no idea at the time that his depression was so bad, but his mother felt concerned and drove him to the GP herself. When Clare broke down at work her colleague phoned the GP to fix an appointment, and suggested she wrote down how she felt to help her explain things to the doctor. Stephen’s colleague noticed he had been taking a lot of time off work which was unusual for him, and suggested he should go to see his GP.
 

Stuart’s wife made him go to the doctor after he broke...

Stuart’s wife made him go to the doctor after he broke...

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Male
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Well I had, have had depression ever since I was a teenager and I didn’t realise it for quite a long time and it was only diagnosed when I was in my thirties and then looking back respectively I could see that I had known that something wasn’t right for a number of years but I guess I was a typical man, I didn’t I didn’t seek help although I did visit a GP when I was a student who was very unhelpful which didn’t help. But I managed to get through my teenage years and through University and the situation got worse as the stress built up in the job that I was doing, I was working as an electronic engineer designing mobile phones and products like that doing a lot of travelling. And it got worse and worse until at one point I just couldn’t stop crying I was actually working abroad at the time and I just really couldn’t carry on.
 
So I came home, I came home and was off work and was marched to the doctor and a therapist by my, my late wife who I was married to at the time. And that really was the thing that almost forced my hand into getting help and getting treatment and at that point I remember the therapist afterwards said to me that there was nothing I could do with you for the first two or three weeks and apparently I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t speak I could hardly talk it had built up to that point. And so she just did hypnotherapy to try and relax me for the first two or three weeks.
 
I was put onto one of the tricyclics, one of the older antidepressants and gradually really through working with the therapist, spent a lot of time trying to, trying to get some kind of understanding of what had happened.
 

Stephen visited the GP after a...

Stephen visited the GP after a...

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 44
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I think looking back it’s clear that I actually was depressed for a couple of years before it was diagnosed first I fought against it maybe deep down I knew myself there was something wrong but did I admit it to myself and there was a friend at work who’s known me for 25 years and he took me aside one day and said ’There’s something wrong with you, you’ve had more days off in the last six months than you’ve had off in the previous 20 years. Is there something I can do to help you?’ and that made me think and I thought ‘He’s right, there is something wrong and I’ve been denying it to myself.’ So I went to the doctor sat with her for half an hour which is very long as I’d only booked in for an ordinary meeting which normally... ten minutes they allow and I was in for half an hour. And we just sat talking and at some point I just said to her ‘You know, I’m depressed,’ and she went ‘I know and I knew that when you first came in but you had to admit it to yourself first, which is why I didn’t tell you’.
 
And once that was done it was like such a relief because I knew what was wrong and I could see there was now a way of fixing it. I have to say my father had depression a few years ago so I knew that there was a ‘fix’ because he was recovered he got treatment and he got better which helped me a lot. So this would have been in 2008 and I was put onto initially a low dose of antidepressants and we built up till we got to a level which was making me feel stable.
Young people can find it especially hard to go to the GP to talk about depression. Lucy said that as a teenager she’d felt the doctor was there to deal with physical illness ‘it’s very difficult to go to the doctor and say ‘I feel sad’ because it feels like that’s the wrong reason’. She was referred to the mental health team as a teenager and prescribed Prozac (fluoxetine) but didn’t tell her parents because she felt they would disapprove. Sonia’s mother took her to see the GP when she was 16 and she was prescribed an antidepressant.
 
Stuart said that looking back he wondered whether, if he had seen a doctor and got help as a teenager, many of the problems he’d experienced through life could have been avoided.
 
(See our ‘Depression’ section for more information about experiences of recognising and being diagnosed with depression).

Last reviewed June 2016.
 
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