Starting the Conversation – How to Approach Your GP About Your Mental Health

In one of today’s posts, I have talked about my initial experience attempting to access help via primary care services. I’m now going to flip that on its head and talk a bit about what did work for me when I finally changed doctors and started on the path towards recovery.

  • Be Prepared

This is so vital. Here in the UK, GPs have around 7 minutes per appointment to assess your issues and decide what to do. Anything you can do to make the reason for your visit clear will help. For me, that included tracking my mood swings on mood charts and bringing those along to my appointment. I used Moodtracker.com. It allowed my GP to see clearly that there was an issue with my moods and enabled him to take action based on that. I also had been keeping journals full of my psychotic ramblings, and my husband brought those with us to give the doctor an insight into my state of mind.

  • Don’t Be Scared

Well obviously it’s a scary prospect. Most of us aren’t good at talking about ourselves when it comes to the mysteries of mental health issues. But if you think of it like a physical illness (which it kinda is, seeing as it is effecting your brain!) then hopefully some of the fear will dissipate. You wouldn’t hesitate to visit your doctor for an ear infection after all. The other thing to remember is that this isn’t some middle-ages quack. Your doctor is a trained professional, who is in their field for a reason. They care about people’s health and will be open minded with your concerns.

  • Pick The Right Doctor

This one doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but it is helpful if your doctors’ office has a good website you can research on. My GPs surgery has their team listed on their website, along with a little information about each doctor’s special interests. So if you can, see which one is interested in the field of mental health, and make your appointment with them specifically.

  • Advocacy Helps

Having someone (my husband) to speak up on my behalf took half the battle out the equation. If you can talk to a friend or family member about what’s happening, you probably will be ok to ask them to come to the appointment with you. There are also advocacy charities who will talk to you and arrange for one of their volunteers to sit in on your appointment with the doctor.

  • Know Your Options

Referring back to my earlier post, it is clear I’d have had far less of a problem if I’d researched the options available to me before I saw the GP. Know your mind; do you want to try medication, or would you give talk therapy a go first? If you are considering medications, ask your doctor about side effects and potential issues during the appointment. Talk therapies offered initially are usually conducted over the phone with a trained counsellor, or in group settings, so if you don’t feel happy opening up in front of a group of strangers, let your GP know this.

  • Be Honest

Your doctor is not going to be fazed by tears. Crying is a natural and understandable reaction to what you are going through, and it may well help for your GP to see that you are struggling. When I saw my doctor for the first time, I was manic and psychotic. I couldn’t sit still, I was beyond agitated and I couldn’t hide it – I paced the office whilst we talked and my rapid-fire speech was another sign to him that something wasn’t right. On top of this, let them know if you’re self-harming or suicidal. They are not going to judge you, and they can only be effective if they have the whole picture.

Sadly there are primary care doctors out there who have one eye on the budget and the other on the clock, as I found out the hard way. But if you go in with getting help in the forefront of your mind, the majority of doctors will be listening with a sympathetic ear.

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Starting the Conversation – How to Approach Your GP About Your Mental Health

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