Often when we’re struggling to cope with our mental health, people tell us: “Go and have a chat with your GP”. But what if you don’t trust your GP, haven’t seen a GP in a long time, or aren’t sure what you would say?
When people give us this advice, they’re often on the right track. GPs are a good first step – they can help us explore any underlying physical issues, and suggest different options for supporting our mental health.
But it can be really nerve wracking to make that appointment.
If you don’t already have a trusted GP you can visit, there are a few options:
It can be hard to communicate that we are struggling. We might not be used to talking about feeling vulnerable, or might battle with feelings of shame. We may also not know what kind of information is important to get across.
Key things to mention might be:
A GP will ask questions to find out more about you and what you’ve been experiencing. This could involve questions about your work, life, and current and past physical and mental health. It could also mean filling out a short assessment, or having a blood test. This all helps your GP gather relevant information to help you in the best way.
A GP should then talk you through support options. This could include discussing referrals to services or mental health professionals, or talking about medication options. They can complete a ‘mental health care plan’ with you, which entitles you to Medicare supported sessions with a mental health professional.
This should be a collaborative conversation where you can ask questions and get the information you need to make an informed decision about your treatment.
People often walk away from appointments feeling they haven’t said important things or asked the questions they needed.
Before you go, try writing down what you’d like to discuss. You can either do this by yourself, or with someone you trust. You can then refer to this in the appointment. It’s also a good idea to book a double appointment. This will give you more time to talk, so you don’t feel rushed.
You also have the option to take a support person to your appointment. If it helps you feel more comfortable, you can ask someone to come with you for moral support. They may also be able to help you communicate what has been happening for you.
At times, there can be stigma around mental health issues – from society at large, and within yourself. This can make it hard to reach out for help for fear of being judged. However, many GPs are experienced in supporting people with mental health issues, and it’s a regular part of their job.
Every health professional is different though, and it’s possible to come away from an appointment feeling judged or dismissed. You may also feel uncomfortable with the support options your GP is offering.
Don’t let a disappointing experience make you feel like you have to go it alone.
Debrief with someone you trust, or reach out to the SANE Help Centre or another helpline. This will help you feel supported to reach out again. And if a particular GP is not a good fit for you, it is okay to try another one.
If we hear a lot of negative or inaccurate stories around mental health issues, we can start to believe them - even when they're completely wrong.