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How to speak to a doctor about your mental health

Speaking to a doctor, therapist or any other professional about your mental health for the first time can be daunting. Honor, 18, shares the tips that helped her feel more confident.

A question that I get asked quite a lot is, “How do I approach my doctor about my mental health?” It can be incredibly tough opening up about your mental health, especially to someone you don’t know. I want to share some tips that helped me, so you can speak to a doctor/therapist more comfortably.

1. Take notes with you

When I went and spoke to my doctor for the first time about my mental health, I made sure that I had written down notes on what I wanted to discuss because talking about your mental health in a one-to-one situation can often be quite overwhelming. Taking notes can help you keep track of what you need to say and can help you remember important topics that you may have missed out.

2. You don't have to bring a parent

For my first doctor's session discussing my mental health, I decided I didn’t want my parents in the room. I felt that I could talk more freely without the risk of upsetting them, and I was able to talk openly without feeling like I had to withhold information. My mum came in with me for the beginning of the appointment, which helped with my nerves, and then the doctor gave me the option to have her leave or stay. Remember though, there’s no need to feel guilty for asking a parent to leave if it makes you feel more comfortable! 

3. Be completely honest

If there is one piece of advice I can give you, it’s that you be completely honest with the professional you’re talking to. It’s easy to sugar-coat experiences and situations, but doing this can prevent you from getting the help you need. Don’t give answers that you think your doctor or therapist wants to hear, give them honesty and truth because it’s their job to help you, and that’s what they really want to hear. 

4. Don't feel ashamed or embarrassed

It’s so important to realise that going to the doctor isn’t always for your physical health. The doctors aren’t there just to treat a cold and cough. They are there to listen and provide the best help they can, and what people tend to forget is that mental illnesses can affect you physically too. The first time I spoke to a doctor regarding my depression, I bawled my eyes out but it’s not something I feel embarrassed about because my mental illness wasn’t only ‘in my head’ – it affected me in many ways physically too. Never feel ashamed for talking about how you feel.

5. Listen to what they tell you

The advice that these professionals provide is incredibly important. Depending on your situation, they may give you coping mechanisms for different situations. They don’t work for everyone, but it’s important to try different things until you find the right thing for you. Just because one thing they suggested didn’t work, doesn’t mean you are broken, or unworthy of help. People experience mental health problems in many different ways, but there is always hope, so don’t give up. For example, it took me a long time to find the right therapist for me. There were times where I thought that I was never going to get help but eventually I found someone for me. It is possible.

Never feel ashamed for talking about how you feel.

All of these things enabled me to approach a professional about my mental health in a more confident and comfortable way. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s worth it. Sharing your struggles with someone else and letting them help you is not something to feel guilty about. Communication is the key.

Author: Honor, 18

For more information about what help is available and where you may be referred if your GP thinks you need more support, take a look at your guide to support.

We also have a list of questions you should ask in doctor's appointments about your mental health treatment. These may be helpful to look at before your first appointment.

If you want to know more about what the different people involved in your care do, you may also find our who's who guide to CAMHS helpful.

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