Going to see your GP about a mental health problem

If you’re worried about your mental health, telling your GP is the first step to getting help. But what do you say? What will they say? And what if you don’t like them? We asked Dr Ranj Singh for the answers.

Girl sat reading a text book

Always take a good book for the waiting room

When should I go and see my GP?

“You can go and see your GP any time that you feel you need help with anything,” says Dr Ranj Singh, an NHS doctor. This includes your brain, as well as your body.

So if you’re feeling down, stressed, unable to cope, or even seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, don’t be afraid to make an appointment.

How do I book an appointment with my GP?

First, make sure you’re registered. We explain how to do this in our Finding a doctor article. Once you’re registered it’s just a case of calling up and booking an appointment.

“You don’t have to say what the appointment is for,” says Dr Ranj. “You can say it’s for a mental health problem, but you don’t have to go into a lot of detail.”

You can ask for a specific GP, or for a male or female doctor, or if there’s anyone specialising in mental health. Appointments are usually 10 minutes, so ask for a double appointment if you don’t want to feel rushed.

You can take someone with you if you’re anxious. They can speak on your behalf, help you remember everything the doctor says, or just be there to hold your hand.

What will my appointment be like?

When you go to the GP or specialist mental health service for help you will be asked a series of questions about your physical and mental health, as well as your specific symptoms. This will help the professionals build a full picture of your life so they can determine a diagnosis.

“Some of these questions are going to be quite personal,” says Dr Ranj, “and some of them are going to be difficult to answer, and that’s alright. It’s not easy to talk about your mental health, it’s a private issue.”

You may be assessed by the following professionals:

  • Nurse
  • Your GP
  • Social worker
  • Psychologist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Specialised pharmacist

Your assessment may cover the following topics:

  • Your mental health symptoms
  • How you’re feeling, your thoughts and actions
  • Your physical health and wellbeing
  • Home life and how you get on with friends, family and partner
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Yours and others’ safety
  • What medication you’re already on
  • Experience of similar problems
  • Your daily life, background and culture

You only have to talk about the topics you’re comfortable with but it does help to be open. If you’re worried, try writing everything down beforehand and take it with you. It’ll help jog your memory, and you can always just read it if you’re feeling embarrassed.

Unfortunately, your mental health won’t be magically sorted out in one GP appointment. But this is the beginning of the process to a happier you.

What should I ask my GP?

If you’ve got questions don’t be afraid to speak up. Make sure you understand:

Your diagnosis – If they’ve told you that you have a specific condition, ask what this means and how it affects you.

Your treatment – Ask about all the different treatment options and talk through the pros and cons of each. Make sure you’re clear on how long the treatment will last as well.

What’s next – Ask them what the plan is. Are you being referred to a specialist or mental health services? How long will this take? Should you book another appointment with your GP at a later date? And how should you take care of your mental health in the meantime?

Should I take medication?

“If you’re going to start medication you need to know why. You also need to know the side-effects and how long you’re going to be on it for,” says Dr Ranj.

You may be able to try an alternative treatment first if you’re not happy with the idea of medication, but it depends on your condition. “There are situations when medication is the best option,” says Dr Ranj. “Then it’s important to take it.”

Starting medication doesn’t mean you’ll be popping pills forever. You and your doctor will decide together when it’s time for you to come off them.

Will my GP tell anyone about my mental health?

Your GP has a duty of confidentiality, so they can’t tell anyone what you’ve said to them without your permission. That includes your family and your employer – though in certain situations they can break this confidentiality. “A GP might have to break that duty of confidentiality if you’re considered a serious risk to yourself, a serious risk to someone else, or to prevent a crime happening,” says Dr Ranj.

What if I don’t like my GP?

“You’ve got to try your best to get your point across and get your GP to understand you,” says Dr Ranj. “But if it doesn’t work out, you do have other options.”

This article explains what to do if you want to change GP, would like a second opinion, or make a complaint.

I’ve got more questions – can I visit them again?

Don’t ever feel guilty about contacting your GP.

“If you’re in-between appointments and you feel like you need to be seen sooner, ask for an earlier appointment,” says Dr Ranj. “There’s no a limit on how often you can see your GP.”

Can anyone else help me?

If you want to chat to someone other than your GP there are other places of support you can try.

Your friends and family: If you’re worried about how to talk to them about your mental health, we have an article to guide you through it.

Counselling services: Ask your school or university about its support services.

A helpline: You could call SANE for advice specifically about mental health, or the Samaritans if you just want to chat to somebody.

Online services: There’s loads of reliable information about mental health from Mind, Sane, NHS Choices, or our other articles on The Mix. “It’s important to go to a trustworthy source,” says Dr Ranj. “Be very careful when it comes to non-verified sites, or people’s personal experience; if it’s their own story it won’t necessarily apply to you.”

Next Steps

  • SANE offer support and information to people affected by mental illness. 0300 304 7000
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Anyone can contact the Samaritans on their 24-hour helpline to talk things through. 116 123
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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MH support

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Updated on 23-Dec-2015

Photo of girl in waiting room by volunteer photographer Zorawar Waraich