Here, people talk about the following topics:
what is mental health?
when to see the GP about mental health
young people’s experiences of symptoms
talking to the GP about mental health
getting the most out of the appointment
getting help and recovering from depression
What is mental health?
Mental health is about our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing, and it affects how we think, feel and act. It also affects how we handle stress, make choices, and relate to other people.
Mental health problems can affect people at any age and can be diagnosed by a doctor. They’re not personal weaknesses, and range from everyday worries to serious long-term conditions. Common mental health problems include depression, anxiety, and panic. Less common are ‘psychotic’ symptoms that interfere with a person’s perception of reality, and may include hallucinations such as seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things that no one else can.
When to see the GP about mental health
Feeling low or down now and then is a normal part of life. But when it’s ongoing and stops a person from getting on with their usual routine, it may be a good idea see the GP – whether that’s because of feelings of low mood, anxiety, panic, or depression. Talking to the doctor is the most direct way of finding out what’s wrong and getting help. GP consultations (appointments) are usually short but can still be helpful. Sometimes GPs will offer longer appointments if someone needs to talk. A doctor can help to:
diagnose whether someone has depression or another mental health problem
give information and recommendations that may help
prescribe antidepressant or other medications if necessary
refer a patient for counselling
refer a patient to other mental health services Young people’s experiences of symptoms
Some people we talked to went to the GP because of feelings of low mood, anxiety or depression which were ongoing and affecting their day-to-day lives. Often a family member or friend had suggested they see the doctor. Aphra, for example, felt very tired, hadn’t slept properly for weeks, and wasn’t eating well. A neighbour noticed that Aphra was very tearful when talking about work so made her an emergency appointment:
Aphra’s neighbour helped her realise that she needed to see the GP, who advised her not to go back to work. She was very tearful which was unusual for her.
Mental health problems affect a lot of people and shouldn’t be seen as embarrassing. It’s important to talk to someone and take time out for yourself.
Aphra made herself carry on with day-to-day life and hadn’t realised that she was probably depressed. Shane, on the other hand, knew quite a lot about depression but it was his family who advised him that he should see the GP:
Shane was helping his girlfriend through depression. His mum noticed that he was short-tempered and suggested he should see a doctor.
Nikki didn’t care about anything and didn’t want to be alive. Other people suggested she see the GP but she thought they were trying to trick her into something.
Siobhan’s brother found out that she’d been making herself sick. He told her that a doctor could help. Seeing the GP with him was easier than going on her own.
Lucy felt anxious in class and once started shaking. Her teachers told her to see the GP and to tell her dad.
Taking drugs and breaking up with a boyfriend tipped Fran over the edge. She didn’t realise how drugs were affecting her and doesn’t recommend taking them.
All the doctors Aphra saw listened well and were very good. They reassured her that depression wasn’t a failing. She’d been in a bad situation for a long time.
Auberon had been having counselling and later spent a month in hospital. He had to wait 2 years for therapy when he moved to adult services but feels it’ll help.
Fran’s GP called for an ambulance but she refused to go. She was very ill and confused. The police were called and she was taken to hospital.
Shane was prescribed a high dose of antidepressants, which he used to overdose on. It was then that he had to tell his mum what he’d been going through.
It can feel like a big step to see the GP about mental health. People are often unsure how they’ll explain the problem so it’s a good idea to plan ahead to get the most out of the appointment. Sophie, for example, said she found it hard to talk about her feelings to a doctor she hardly knew. It was also hard for her to talk openly with a parent in the room, in case she upset them; Aphra was glad she went on her own.
Seeing a different doctor every time people went to the surgery was also hard, and it might take several appointments before some people felt they got the help they needed. Sophie, for example, went to the doctors’ six or seven times and, on the last appointment, said she wasn’t leaving until she was given help:
It took courage for Sophie to go back to the GP and to say that she wanted a referral. It’s sad that it took so long to get help.
Getting the most out of the appointment
make an appointment well in advance, if possible, with a GP you like
think ahead about what you want to say to the doctor
be prepared to talk about how you’ve been feeling. You might be asked about recent sleeping and eating patterns, weight, activity, and mood.
write things down beforehand to help you, including questions you might want to ask
think about what help is available and what you might like (e.g. medication, online counselling)
don’t give up if your first experience isn’t very good. Try a different doctor.
It’s hard to talk about feelings in a short appointment. There’s usually more behind the visit. GPs should give information about helplines and charities.
Mental health problems can be treated in several ways, including with medication and talking therapies, such as counselling. Sarah was prescribed antidepressants but didn’t want to take them. The doctor also told her that she could contact the university counselling service, which she did, but she found that counselling wasn’t for her. Later, when she was feeling much worse, she saw another GP and started taking antidepressants.
Sarah wanted to know about the different medications for depression but felt she wasn’t given all the options by the first GP she saw. She later saw another.
The antidepressants took 6 or 7 weeks to start working. It’s important to be patient and not miss a dose.
Shane likes having informal counselling with his GP, which feels more like a chat. He can talk without giving everything away, and it feels that it’s not all about him.
Many people have depression at some point in their lives. But with the right support, especially if it’s early on, most recover and get on with and enjoy life again. Sophie, for example, had a hard time for a few years when her sister was ill but felt a lot better after she’d had help.