There’s a lot of rhetoric in the media about mental health being just as important as physical health, but when it comes to talking to a GP, we’re much more likely to talk to them about our physical problems than our psychological ones.
Often people can feel like they’re wasting their GP’s time if they book an appointment for mental health complaints, for example they may feel as though they’re wasting NHS time by going on account of emotional or psychological problems. Mental health issues are often perceived – even by sufferers themselves – as something patients should work through on their own, and people have a tendency to downplay the severity of their mental health problems, for example, dismissing depression as ‘feeling a bit sad’ and therefore not worth wasting their doctor’s time over.
So how do you go about talking to your GP about mental health?
One of the most common problems people face when talking about mental health is that they feel that their problems aren’t severe enough to be worth ‘bothering’ a doctor with.
As a general guide, you should see your GP if your mental health is having any kind of negative impact on your day to day life, particularly if it’s limiting your capacity to function normally. This might be not enjoying things you normally would, having difficulty sleeping, or feeling unable to cope.
Once you’ve made your appointment, you may find it useful to write down all your symptoms and feelings, or ask a close family member to write down what they see. This will help you remember everything you want to say when the time comes, as well as giving the doctor a rounded picture of the problem at hand.
Most importantly, be honest. People have a tendency to downplay their mental health problems because they’re embarrassed, but this can prevent you from getting the most appropriate help and treatment.
There’s a misconception among the general public that doctors can only treat physical ailments, or that if you go to the GP for mental health issues, they’ll just throw pills at the problem, but in fact, GPs can refer you to a range of treatments and services. It may be that medication is the right treatment for you, but as well as this, GPs can refer you for CBT and other talking therapies, refer you to local charities who specialise in your issue, as well as advise on general well-being such as diet and exercise.