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Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Improving the surgery waiting room for young people

The people we talked to felt that GP surgery waiting rooms could be improved in several ways to make them more appealing and welcoming to young people. Here are their suggestions.

Posters and leaflets relevant to young people

Paula felt that most of the information at her local surgery was about pregnancy, the flu and smoking, and that information on contraception and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) might be more helpful. Auberon and Gentian felt that there were no posters at their surgeries that were relevant for young people as they were all aimed at older patients. Posters of illnesses more common in their age group would be helpful. Kyle felt that topics of interest to young people included spots and skin health, and Winston thought that more information on sports injuries would be useful. Siobhan recalled that there were posters at her surgery about sex and contraception but nothing about mental health. Peter felt that leaflets should be tailored to specific age groups, and include information that’s social as well as health related, such as leaflets about meeting new people and relationships, and a leaflet about trusted health websites. Up-to-date magazines for different age groups would also be useful.
 

GPs should ask young people how they’d like the surgery to look. More information about the ‘things that young people are confused about’ would be good.

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GPs should ask young people how they’d like the surgery to look. More information about the ‘things that young people are confused about’ would be good.

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I do think that they could spruce it up a little bit.

Yeah. So if you were going to spruce it up, what kind of things would you advise them?

I don’t know really. I think as helpful as all the information that they put on the board is, you know, the TV is about like health and stuff. They could put like the news or anything that appeals to everybody on there so that people are entertained. Recent magazines, not ones from like ten years ago. But I think the children's area is how it is and it's fine because children are easily entertained, so I think that’s fine.

Are there many things that, looking round the surgery, the waiting room, that you feel are relevant for your age group?

Mm not really. Only if they're talking about like yoga for people who wanna get like fit. But mostly it's just about pregnancies or like cancer and stuff like that and like old age.

Do you think that it could have something for your age group, and if it did, what kind of things do you think are the main issues that people, younger people of your age group would be most interested to see posters on, or leaflets on?

I think they should have more things for my age group. I think they could have things about like mental health and sexual health and things that young people are confused about, not just things that older people feel that young people care about. I think they should actually speak to us and see what we're actually confused about at this stage and then put those on the wall.
 

Hannah used to read leaflets about pregnancy and sexual health. Leaflets on stress and depression would be helpful.

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Hannah used to read leaflets about pregnancy and sexual health. Leaflets on stress and depression would be helpful.

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I think when I was pregnant I would pick up leaflets and things to do with sexual health I guess I would read about, yeah mainly during my pregnancy I would have.

If they were going to make any other leaflets just to put around the surgery especially for younger people say people between 14 and 25/26, are there any subjects you think that would be really interesting to that age group?

I think the first thing that just came into my head was probably like something to do with sort of stress, because I know that a lot of young adults and teenagers do suffer with stress to do with school or making decisions about going to University and things like that. Yeah I guess maybe stress and like a little bit of depression maybe because some teenagers, they go through quite a lot of issues that they need help with and they’re obviously, most of the time I guess they don’t go to the doctor or don’t diagnose anything. So maybe, yeah, I think something like that would be, would have, would be helpful.
Tagbo felt that young people are often scared to see the GP so surgeries need to ‘entice them to go’. He felt that activities and posters that young people could engage with would be useful, including health quizzes on relevant topics.
 

It would be useful to have colourful leaflets and posters about alcohol, drugs and sex at GP surgeries and schools so young people could learn about the risks.

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It would be useful to have colourful leaflets and posters about alcohol, drugs and sex at GP surgeries and schools so young people could learn about the risks.

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In terms of …in terms of like medical, I'd say about, maybe about drugs and sex maybe because that’s, again that’s a really great issue for teenagers today if…and I feel like if teenagers would read up on those when they're in their appointments and something like that, then maybe teenagers would have a different opinion or they may change their ways because it can, it can change people. And I feel like it will…if stuff like that…if information such as that were in them…were in our appointments then definitely, they would definitely read up on that, I feel like that.

That’s really interesting. So you feel if there more pamphlets; but how about even posters?

Posters yeah, again colourful, yeah vibrant. 

So information specifically for you know your age group – teenagers, sixth formers – about sex and relationships and about drugs?

Yeah.

Yeah. How about alcohol?

Alcohol – again alcohol can fall under that because again at this age people are drinking, people are having sex, people are taking drugs. It's very…and usually teenagers can fall into that trap and it's important for them to know the risks and then all the consequences of that. So I feel like it would be important for that to be done.

So all of that information in the GP's surgery. Is it important to have that information elsewhere as well?

Yeah, definitely, again around public transport. Teenagers take the bus; they take the bus to school, they take the bus to events - again important to have that. 

And how about in schools, is that a relevant place or would they not listen if it was at school?

In school? Yeah they would, yeah. Yeah, it's a relevant place. We have lessons about this, about again drugs, sex, alcohol. So again, school would be a relevant place, would be an important place – probably one of the first places for it to be implemented in my opinion because that’s where you're at most of the time. And you're spending most of your days, most of your hours at school, so this is where most of your information that you can get is at school, so....
Young people were in favour of relevant information in the waiting room and wanted to know more about mental health, sexual health (including unprotected sex), relationships, and period problems. Rowan felt that it would also be helpful to have more information about mental health in schools and youth clubs because it was about ‘prevention in the playground, not in paediatrics’.
 

It’s important to talk about mental health openly. When it’s discussed realistically in TV soaps, it can help people understand more about it.

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It’s important to talk about mental health openly. When it’s discussed realistically in TV soaps, it can help people understand more about it.

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I think there needs to be people going into different organisations like youth clubs, stuff like that, anything; or just like having …or like a high street having a store so that people can approach them and talk to them. Or like…or the people there can approach other people. Just having open conversations about mental health, it's like saying, "Oh hi like, what do you know about mental health; what do you know about mental illness; do you think you have mental health?" And if they say no then you say, "Oh we all have it, it’s like physical health..." It's just…it's really simple little things just like showing that mental health…it's OK to be open about it and talk about it.

How about on telly?

Yeah, I think that’s really important as well. I think what I found is that, especially with young people, like soaps, when they portray mental health stories, and when they do it like in a good way, that makes a huge difference. Like with Eastenders, Hollyoaks – when people there experience mental health issues, and then they get help, like in the soap or something like that, [loud background noises] that makes a huge difference. 

And people realise, 'Oh I can do that.' Like it's actually helped a lot of…like I think…but also on the other side, TV can portray in a really negative way and that can create more stigma. So I think the ones that have done it right, I think they’ve spoken to different charities about how they can portray their storyline in a realistic and fair way. And I think when TV shows do that, it helps a lot.
 

The worst part about having a mental health problem was the reactions of some friends. It would help if GPs and counsellors told people that this could happen.

The worst part about having a mental health problem was the reactions of some friends. It would help if GPs and counsellors told people that this could happen.

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I think the worst part for me about having a mental health problem is, like when I’ve told people and I’ve seen their faces. And like some of my friends who I thought I was close to were accusing me of attention seeking. So obviously like the stigma was really difficult to cope with. Cos it was that stigma of attention seeking, not being really ill.

So that’s really hard, isn’t it?

I think that were the hardest thing for me to have to cope with at the time. And as well like cos I was like making myself throw up, it’s like my teeth aren’t very good. Like they’ve got a bit of yellow in, which just doesn’t go, because like they’ve got a bit of like stomach acid and things like that. So people would say like, “Oh, you don’t brush your teeth, you scrut.” I’m like, “I do, but it doesn’t go.” So that’s like cos the eating disorder was because of like body image problems, it’s been difficult to cope with things like stigma, attention seeking or whatever.

So they didn’t really know much about it?

I think they know about it. They just don’t really cover it during like sessions sort of thing. 

So what would be, do you think, what could be helpful, a good way of like raising awareness, telling people more about these kinds of things?

I think like just saying, “Look, you might experience stigma from people who don’t understand or haven’t gone through a mental health problem.” But 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem, whether directly or indirectly. So at some point in their lives they’re gonna have to learn to understand mental health. So you’re just gonna have to learn to stick it out and cope with it and find someone who you can really open up about how the stigma is affecting you.
Other people wanted more information on puberty, stress and exams, and smoking, alcohol, and drug abuse. Hazzan felt that it was important to have information about mental and sexual health, puberty, and healthy relationships:
 

It would be better if GPs gave young people leaflets because they’d be more likely to read them then.

It would be better if GPs gave young people leaflets because they’d be more likely to read them then.

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What kind of things do you think that young people would be confused about, and would probably think some posters or leaflets would actually be helpful in the surgery?

I think…I'll answer the latter question first. I think they would be helpful if they were directly given to young people and not just put up because I don’t think they'd take the time to look at it unless it was handed to them. But the stuff that they should put up is things like sexual health and mental health – I think those two are very important because those are the two things that are changing, and puberty of course. And healthy relationships and things like that and like, yeah, just like staying healthy and safe sex and things like that.
People also thought that it would be useful to have some posters about what to expect when visiting the GP and their rights (such as privacy, and being able to decide whether they want a parent or friend at the appointment with them).

A more colourful waiting room with comfortable seating

Rowan felt that more colour could make surgery waiting rooms look ‘cheery’, and Nikki thought that a ‘warmer’ colour would be better for surgeries rather than a plain one. Louis felt that colour would ‘liven up’ surgeries and, if they looked more modern, they would feel more welcoming. Aphra recalled that her village surgery has ‘a really nice community feel’ and has art work on the walls made by children from the local primary school. Rowan also stressed the importance of having and being able to access Wi-Fi, and several people felt that having a TV in the waiting room would help pass the time when appointments were running late.
 

Ish doesn’t find GP surgeries welcoming. He feels they should be brightened up, have up-to-date magazines, and some pictures on the walls.

Ish doesn’t find GP surgeries welcoming. He feels they should be brightened up, have up-to-date magazines, and some pictures on the walls.

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This is going to be a bad comparison, but it can use a little upgrade sometimes to make it a little bit more welcoming. I mean just since I went to a lot of doctors in America also, I know they try to make it more welcoming. And here if you go and it’s like, you know you’re at a doctor’s place. 

And no matter how we look at it in our mind, when we go to the doctors, we just keep thinking, ‘Oh, this is probably something bad.’ Like it’s probably nothing in the end, but you’re thinking of the worst and that place is not really helping you take your mind off of it. It’s like, okay, it’s cold. The chairs are uncomfortable. It’s like they probably got it from a garage sale or something like that. It’s just, I don’t know, it’s not welcoming at all. 

So having those posters up on the wall, as in like lung cancer and that and that. Yeah, have pamphlets on the table, so if someone wants to read it, read it. But like really on the wall too? A huge poster covering the whole wall that you’re going to die from cancer. That’s not really helping anyone. So, yeah, just try to use a little colour and your imagination to brighten it up a little bit, and yeah.

So if I said to you right now, like you’ve got a blank canvas and you could design the waiting room however you want, how would you design it and how would you make it inclusive for young people, to make young people feel comfortable.

Probably, actually having magazines that are up to date. That’s a good thing. Most people are interested. Having a variety of them helps a lot and just putting posters up, even if you get posters, like pictures. Like, you don’t have to go all out. I mean, I understand there’s a budget for every company. But still, just having a poster would be a lot better than having a poster of like dying from, you know, lung cancer or something like that. To me, that’s a little bit extreme. So have the pamphlets there. You know, put in like actually chairs, actual chairs. If you go to IKEA, it’s not that expensive. So yeah, make it a little bit less stressful and cold. 
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