How To Talk To Your GP About Mental Health… By A GP

Shutterstock / BestPhotoStudio © Dark haired woman on mobile phone, outside

Mental health problems are common, with one in four people in the UK experiencing them during their lives.

However, there is still sometimes a stigma around mental health. Some people may feel uncomfortable talking about it or seeking help. To encourage people to talk about mental health issues and explain how best to ask for help, Dr Rhianna McClymont, lead GP at online service Livi, has offered her advice on the best ways to raise mental health issues with your doctor.

5 ways to talk about mental health

1. When should I ask for help?

As a rule of thumb, you should look for help if your mental health starts to impact your everyday life, or if you feel that you’re struggling to manage the problem by yourself. In these cases, you can book yourself into a GP for an appointment.

In more severe cases, and if you have any thoughts about harming yourself or others, you should refer yourself to a local mental health crisis team, or consider checking in to A&E, where there are psychiatric liaison teams onsite.

Dr McClymont says, “Getting help early can limit the impact that a mental health problem has on you, your mood and the quality of your life. If you need specialised help for mental health issues, a GP can refer you to a psychiatry team.

Anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns are common. They are nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.

2. Should I prepare for my appointment beforehand?

Whilst you won’t need to do any in-depth preparation for your appointment, it’s a good idea to know in advance:

  • what you want to talk about
  • what particular issues you want to address
  • whether you want a friend or family member to join the appointment with you
Dark haired lady on sofa writing in a journal

Pic: Shutterstock

Dr McClymont says, “Knowing what you want to talk about can make your appointment much more effective when it comes to dealing with the issues. It can also be a good idea to record your feelings in a journal before your appointment. This will give you much more information to share with your GP that you might otherwise forget.

“You should also be prepared to inform your GP of any drugs or medication that you’re taking, as these can sometimes impact your mental health. Whether the drugs are prescription or recreational, legal or illegal, being honest with your GP will help them to address the problem.”

3. What will the appointment be like?

Your GP will ask you a series of questions about how you’re feeling and what issues you’re experiencing due to the mental health problems. They may also ask you about your family’s medical history to determine whether that could be a factor. In some cases, the GP may conduct some physical checks, such as a blood pressure test.

Dr McClymont says: “Sometimes, talking about your feelings, traumatic events in your past, or your own triggers for mental illness can be difficult. Take your time, but do try to bring up anything you feel could be important, as it will help you get the right treatment.”

4. What might the GP recommend?

The first step your GP will take is to determine whether there are any lifestyle changes that can be made to address the problems. This can include action like stopping smoking, reducing the amount of alcohol you’re drinking, or changing to an alternative prescription medication.

Womans hand covering glass, rejecting more alcohol from wine bottle in bar

If further treatment is needed, then your doctor might suggest that you begin taking antidepressants, refer you to counselling or other therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and may recommend a nearby charity or organisation that can help.

Dr McClymont says, “Sometimes a change in lifestyle is all that’s needed to improve your mental health. Things like smoking or drinking can start as a coping mechanism to deal with things like stress at work, but they can quickly become contributing factors to the deterioration of your mental health.

“In other cases, we may find that direct treatment, whether through medication or counselling, is the best option.”

5. Are there other forms of help?

There are lots of groups and organisations that have been set up to help people with mental health problems, and to allow people suffering to be able to communicate their experiences to others who have faced similar issues.

You can also talk about your mental health with friends and family or write about your experiences in a journal. These techniques can often help you deal with mental health problems by relieving some of the burden through confiding in others. However, it’s important to state that you should always seek additional help if this doesn’t seem to be working.

Dr McClymont says: ‘There are many different mental health charities available that are excellent at offering advice and further support if needed. If you have health problems that are affecting your work, it may also be helpful to talk to your manager or HR department. You don’t need to disclose more than you’re comfortable with, but it can give you another avenue for practical support.

“Mental health problems are often incredibly difficult to talk to others about, however opening up about your struggles is often the first step in overcoming them. Seeking medical help or advice in times of personal crisis is a hugely important part of dealing with the problem and should never be taken as a sign of weakness.”

Here’s more information on talking about mental health problems to a GP  

About the Livi GP service

Livi lets patients see a GP by video in minutes – on their mobile or tablet. When you’re ill, you want to see a doctor fast and from wherever you are. Livi’s service is available for free through the NHS for patients of its partner GP practices.