What do we need to get help from our GP for mental health? Reassurance, realistic expectations and a plan.

Helping you get help from your GP

NHS services think that they are a series of entrances – but actually they are a series of barriers

Yesterday, I went down to Brighton for the launch of Doc Ready – a new digital tool (a website and soon to be app) that helps young people get the most out of a visit to their GP about mental health. Have a look. It’s got clear and practical information about what young people should expect from a visit. It enables them to search for a GP and create a checklist of things to remember in the appointment.

The above quote – which I am sure many of us can relate to – was something a young person said during one of the engagement workshops run by Right Here in Brighton during the development of the product.

But what struck me was that this young person seems further along the process of understanding, evaluating and therefore being able to access effective support than many. Maybe this is a result of being given a chance to reflect on their experiences in the workshops or perhaps they have just come to this realisation having faced and overcome many barriers. Either way this young person is in a position to evaluate their experience and recognise that getting support for mental health isn’t always easy. They know that many, if not all, of the barriers are not their ‘fault’.

Realistic expectations when visiting your GP?

Many young people who may not have visited the doctor of their own accord much before have a completely different mindset. If they’re anything like I was (and I know a lot who are) they will go with different expectations:

“If I can build up the nerve to turn up then I can trust the right decisions will be made about my care and next steps. Everything that should be explained and done will be. If I have a bad experience with a GP, or even a receptionist, it’s probably my fault for trying to go along in the first place for something that I was stupid to expect help with”

If only. Fundamentally what often seems to be missing from early visits to the GP about mental health is the realisation that we have agency in the process and the reassurance that it is ok to use it. Without that there is a huge risk of coming away from the process feeling worse, more isolated and put off seeking help in the future.

Reassurance and permission

This is what I hope Doc Ready will be able to help with.  The list of topics gives reassurance, perhaps even permission, to be able to talk about more than physical symptoms.

The checklist function enables you to plan what you’d like to say and helps ensure you don’t forget anything. It also shows that it’s ok to talk about all kinds of things with your GP.

Writing a letter to my GP about my mental health

It was seven years of bad and confusing care before I wrote a letter to my GP – and it was the most helpful thing I’ve ever done. Mental health isn’t simple and easy to talk about. I had longer than the 10 minutes of an appointment to think carefully about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to communicate it. The letter captured not only how I was feeling on the day of the appointment but how I had been feeling at other times.

But I thought it – and therefore I – was a bit weird for doing so. If I hadn’t been so determined to get things sorted and so used to using words to communicate I’d probably have struggled on trying to remember everything in the appointments, explain things badly and come away feeling frustrated. I hope that the process of using something like Doc Ready will help reassure people that it is normal and helpful to plan your appointments and write things down.

The feedback section gives more information about what you can do if your appointment doesn’t go to plan. This is vital if people are to realise that any bad experiences they had might not be their fault.

The developers said that they hoped that it was an app that people would only use [need to use] once. I hope this is the case, that people uses it to get effective support earlier.

However, I’d like to think that whether it is used again or not, the very process of using it once helps people realise the need to plan, open up, ask questions and sometimes put their foot down. If they do this in other ways in the future, great. Doc Ready will be doing it’s job. While it appears to be a very simple tool its taking on a challenging and complex task.

I’d love to see it advertised in surgeries and, more importantly, the link given out by receptionists to young people when they make appointments. Have a look, see what you think, give them feedback.

Other relevant pieces;

Mind the Gap – GPs, antidepressants and mental health support for young people.

Writing my my mind – thoughts about the benefits and impacts of public and private journalling.

One thought on “What do we need to get help from our GP for mental health? Reassurance, realistic expectations and a plan.

  1. Pingback: Mental health information articles for 16-25 year olds | Clare Rose Foster

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