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Talking to your GP about your mental health

Talking to your GP about your mental health
For most of us, our local GP practice is the first place we should go when we are feeling unwell. Here at Community Living Well, we understand that it can be daunting to have a first conversation with your GP about your mental health. It can be particularly difficult to talk about your personal feelings to someone you hardly know – especially when you’re not feeling well. However, always remember that you are not a burden and it is okay to ask for help. Your problem won’t be considered insignificant or unimportant – everyone deserves help and your GP is there to support you. If you are experiencing anxiety, depression or a combination of both, it is possible that you may not have noticed the signs. Symptoms can build gradually over time, making it harder to spot when your mental health has deteriorated.

Why might I speak to my GP about my health?

If you’re…

  • Noticing changes in the way you are thinking or feeling over the past few weeks or months that concern you and cause you distress. You may find these thoughts or feelings too difficult to cope with as they impact on your day-to-day life.
  • Feeling nervous, anxious or on edge and unable to stop or control worrying
  • Experiencing a lot of stress and find that it is having a knock-on effect on your health.
  • Feeling down, depressed or hopeless.
  • Finding it hard to enjoy life and have little interest or pleasure in doing things you previously enjoyed.

Other common symptoms to look out for or mention

  • Irritability
  • Trouble falling, or staying asleep or sleeping too much
  • Feeling tired or having little energy
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Trouble concentrating on things
  • Trouble relaxing, unwinding or switching off from your worries
  • Feeling so restless that it is hard to sit still
  • Finding day-to-day life difficult e.g. household chores

What should I say to my GP?

  • Be honest and open and try not to worry about being judged
  • Focus on how you feel but also mention how it is impacting other areas of your life
  • Try to explain how you’ve been feeling over the past few months or weeks, and anything that has changed. A mood diary, for instance, may help you to keep track of the fluctuations in your mood. Mental health is fluid and can change on a daily, weekly and monthly basis so it can be useful to map out regular changes to your mental landscape.
  • Use language that feels natural to you. Don’t worry about trying to fit neatly into a common diagnosis. Mental health is unique to each individual and there is no one size fits all model of support.

How can I prepare?

  • Ask for a longer (double) appointment so that you have time to get everything you want to say off your chest.
  • Write down what you want to say in advance. This can help you structure your thoughts, as well as ensuring that you are able to get all your points across during the appointment.
  • Give yourself enough time to get to your appointment so that you don’t feel rushed
  • Think about taking someone with you to support you, like a close friend or family member. They can back you up or provide a reminder if you forget to mention any of your symptoms
  • Highlight or print out any information you’ve found that helps you explain how you are feeling

How can my GP help me?

Your GP may:

  • Refer you to a service. The Community Living Well service offers talking therapies, peer support groups, self-care projects, help with employment or housing issues and specialist, structured advice from primary care liaison workers.
  • Make a diagnosis
  • Write a prescription for an antidepressant or anxiety medication

There is no right or wrong way to tell someone how you are feeling. Most people find that speaking to their GP and the help they receive as a result of the chat make a huge difference to their lives. Book an appointment today so you can talk through your options and get the support you deserve.

This story was originally published in the Autumn 2019 Community Living Well magazine. It has been edited for website purposes. Subscribe today to receive mental health and wellbeing tips straight to your inbox, four times a year!

Refer to the Community Living Well service here.