Everyone needs support sometimes
There are lots of ways to get the support you need to help stay healthy. An important step is ﬁnding a good GP (general practitioner) you are comfortable discussing your health with.
Having someone else as a ‘support person’ can be a big help, and don’t forget other services in your area that you can draw on too.
Finding a GP
It’s a good idea to have a regular doctor, a GP, who has an understanding of your general health and whom you are comfortable talking to. Seeing the same GP regularly means they can keep a better eye on your health and organise any check-ups needed.
If you don’t have one yet, ask people you know if they can recommend one. You can also just go down to your local GP’s surgery and ask to be registered.
Check it out
We all know the feeling of wondering if something is wrong – a bump, an ache, or something else – and doing nothing while we hope it goes away. Often, though, we end up worrying at the back of our minds anyway.
If there is something that needs treatment, then it’s best for it to be checked out as soon as possible. This goes for your mental as well as physical health. That’s why if you are feeling unwell at all it’s best to see your GP. If nothing else, it means you can be reassured and stop worrying about it.
Prevention is better than cure
Lots of health problems can be detected early or avoided if you get checked out regularly. This is especially important as we get a little older, or if at risk of the ‘metabolic syndrome’. Discuss with your GP having regular tests for things such as cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and breast or prostate cancer, for example.
Take some notes along
It’s difﬁcult to remember everything you need to tell a doctor. Sometimes we just forget, or are embarrassed, or don’t want to bother them. That’s why it’s a really good idea to scribble down some notes before seeing the doctor – just some dot points are enough, to remind you of everything you wanted to ask about.
Like anyone else, doctors understand something better when it’s explained in a simple, direct way. The more information you give, too, will help to make a diagnosis, so you get the right treatment.
Be as speciﬁc as you can about what’s bothering you. For example, if there’s a chest pain, is it sharp or aching? Is it on the right, left or centre? Is it only present when you exercise or after meals? All this will help the doctor to help you.
Be sure to tell the doctor, too, about any family history of medical conditions (such as diabetes or heart disease), and any medications you are taking, whether prescribed or not.
When you are on to a good thing
It’s a good idea to see the same GP regularly. This means the doctor gets to know your medical history, and helps you feel more comfortable in talking about personal things. That way, when you have concerns about your health you are more likely to feel relaxed about seeing your GP, and they are more likely to be able to help.
Setting up a ‘support person’
Having someone around to encourage you can make all the difference in learning new, healthy habits.
This support person could be your case manager or other support worker from a day program or Personal Helper And Mentor (PHAM) program, for example. It could be a neighbour, friend, someone in your family, or even your psychiatrist or GP. It can be anyone who knows you’re trying to lead a healthier life and agrees to help and keep a friendly eye on how you’re getting on.
The following things are important when thinking about who to ask to be your support person.
Remember your support person needs to be someone you trust, and who will take a real interest in how you are getting on.
No one can be available all the time, but think about how available a person is – in person, by phone or email.
Being a support person means being familiar with you and your life. This is likely to be someone you’ve known for some time and are comfortable talking to.
A positive attitude
A good support person sees the bright side of life. It can make all the difference to have someone with a positive approach to life helping you – it’s surprisingly infectious.
What to discuss with your support person
Here are some things to talk about with your support person, to help them help you to keep up your healthy new habits.
Explain what you’re trying to do
Be speciﬁc about what you want to do. For example, if you want to start getting ﬁtter, don’t let them think you’re necessarily going to join a gym and do weights, when what you have in mind is walking around a park once a day.
Think about alternatives
There are bound to be days when you just don’t feel like doing things. Talk about this beforehand so that there’s an alternative. For example, you can agree that if you’re not motivated to get your usual exercise, the support person could come round and go on a shorter walk with you – to keep your healthy habit up.
If there are things you know are going to be a problem or a challenge, talk to your support person about getting ready to deal with these. For example, if you tend to snack a lot in the afternoon, your support person could suggest rearranging the kitchen cupboard so that healthier foods such as dried fruit, pretzels, or rice crackers are at the front and the unhealthier, fatty foods are stored somewhere more difﬁcult to reach.
Learning by example
If your support person leads a healthy life, then you can learn from their example or even do things together. For example, if they are a keen gardener, you could help them out or even learn how to grow your own vegetables – getting exercise, fresh air, and free, good food too.
Having a back-up plan
There are bound to be times when your support person is not around. Discuss a back-up plan with them for when this happens.
For example, if you usually have a walk together, the support person might help you to arrange to walk someone’s dog while they’re away. People are often grateful to have a dog-walker, and it means you have a daily routine that gives you exercise too.
Using local services
As well as your GP and support person, don’t forget to check out other services that will help you get healthier.
Council recreation centres
These often offer cheap or free facilities such as swimming pools, tennis courts and skating ramps.
Gyms can have a range of facilities such as swimming pools and exercise machines as well as groups such as aerobics and Tai Chi. Some offer lower fees for people with Pension or Health Care Cards.
Local Community Health Centres
These often have general health services such as dentists, podiatrists, psychologists and access to immunisation.
Neighbourhood houses often run groups that can help you with healthy living including Tai Chi, meditation, Yoga, dance or walking groups. Some also have groups such as weight loss programs, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous.
Get to know your local market – not only because the food is fresh, varied and cheap (especially just before closing), but also because it’s an enjoyable and friendly way to shop and meet people. If near enough, walk there with a shopping trolley, so you get some exercise and fresh air too.
Lyndall is in her forties and was diagnosed with Schizophrenia 13 years ago. She’s been getting stomach pains over the past month, but her GP has told her to ‘keep taking her antipsychotic medication and she’ll be ﬁne’.
She feels the doctor sees her as a ‘psych patient’ only and doesn’t take her physical health seriously.
Lyndall also wants to get ﬁtter so she’s not out-of-breath all the time, but can’t get motivated to start exercising.
Asking for more support
Don’t be afraid to ask for more support when you need it. It’s important for Lyndall to have a GP she is comfortable with, and who looks after her physical as well as mental health. She also needs someone to support her in getting motivated to exercise. Steps she can take include:
- asking people she knows to recommend a good GP she can see and get a proper diagnosis for her stomach pains
- asking a worker at the day program she attends to be a support person and discuss a ‘get ﬁt’ program for her.
Write down some ways in which you could get support for your healthy new habits.
In a crisis
If you or someone you know experiences a mental health crisis and becomes highly distressed, it can be difficult for others to know what to do. See In a crisis for advice on how you or others can help.