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How to speak to your GP

If you are struggling with your mental health, going to your GP can be a good place to start to find help. Here we share some information and advice on speaking to your doctor about mental health.

If you are having thoughts, feelings and emotions that are affecting your daily life, you might be struggling with your mental health.

For example, you might be feeling more anxious or down than usual, having problems with eating, self-harming or any of these other feelings and symptoms. If you are experiencing any of these, it’s a good idea to speak to someone so you can get the help you need. You might want to seek help from your GP.

GP stands for general practitioner. This is a doctor who provides overall care to look after both your physical and mental health.

Going to the doctor's to discuss how I'd been feeling was a scary thought, but I knew that only positives could come from it.
Laura

There are lots of reasons why you might want to speak to your GP about your mental health. You might want to speak to your GP if:

  • you’re feeling overwhelmed and you can’t cope
  • you want to get help with your mental health but not sure how
  • you want to know what mental health support is available in your area
  • you’re thinking about getting medication for your mental health
  • you want to go to counselling or therapy but you're not sure where to start
  • a friend or family member has suggested you speak to your GP

However you’re feeling, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your GP – it is part of their job to support us with our mental health.

Your GP can help you out with things like:

  • letting you know what support is available to you through the NHS or private services
  • suggesting different types of treatment like counselling, medication or therapy
  • offering regular check-ups to see how you’re doing
  • finding local support groups for your mental health
  • explaining what the next steps are in getting you support

Before speaking to your GP

You’ll need to book an appointment to speak to your GP. Before the appointment it’s good to think about what you want to get out of the appointment, what you want to talk about, and the questions you want to ask.

Don’t know your nearest GP? You can find your local GP here.

Preparing what you want to say

A good starting point is making a list of things you want to talk about. This can be how you’ve been feeling, what you’re struggling with, or questions you want to ask. Writing things down can help you to think about how you’re feeling and prepare you for the appointment. You can take the list with you so you remember what you want to say or, hand it to the GP at your appointment.

You can use docready to build a checklist of what you want to talk about. They have different topics you can choose from to create a list that you can take with you to the appointment.

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.
Honor

You might find it helpful to chat with someone you trust, like a friend or family member, about the appointment. Try practising what you want to talk about and questions you want to ask to help you feel comfortable talking about your mental health in the way you want to.

You could also ask someone you trust to come and wait with you before your appointment. If you want to, they can come into the appointment with you. But talk to them beforehand about how you want them to support you. Remember, there is no pressure to take someone into your appointment - it is up to you.

What you want to get out of the appointment

Making your voice heard is important, and it's your right to speak up. You know best how you’re feeling, so don’t be afraid to tell your GP what you want. Here are some tips to help you feel in control of your appointment.

What do you want to chat about?

At the start of your appointment, set out what you want to discuss (or hand over your list if you've made one).

Be honest. This can be difficult, but it’s really important. This will help your GP get a better idea of the support you need. Remember, it is part of a doctor’s job to help patients with their mental health. Even though what you are going through and feeling might be new to you, it is likely they have seen others with similar problems.

Your GP will ask questions to work out the best way to support you. If you’re not sure about something, or don’t understand something they have said, you can ask questions too - it’s your appointment. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed; they are there to help you.

Read Honor's blog for more tips on speaking to your doctor about mental health:

How to speak to a doctor about your mental health

Do you want to take medication?

If you want to take medication for your mental health, discuss this with your GP.

They will discuss with you why you want to take medication. They may offer alternative treatments, which you can chat through. If they do talk about other options, this doesn’t mean they’re ignoring what you want, but you can always ask to speak to another doctor for a second opinion if you disagree.

If you are offered medication but you don’t want to take it, that’s okay, talk openly with your doctor about what concerns you have and whether there are any other options for you. It is important that you feel comfortable with your treatment.

If you’re already on medication and don’t want to take it anymore, it's important to speak to your doctor before you decide to stop. It is your choice to stop, but the GP can explore with you alternative treatments or dosage options so you can make an informed decision. They'll also help you plan a gradual stop and avoid withdrawal effects.

For more information about taking medication for your mental health, have a look at our guide to medications.

People may tell you that antidepressants are bad, change your personality, are placebos, or evil, but it’s not true. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for taking medication that helps your health condition!
Seren

Do you want to discuss getting counselling or therapy?

If you want to talk about getting counselling or therapy with your GP, they’ll speak to you about your mental health, what options there are, and the next steps for you. If you and your GP decide counselling is the best option, they’ll organise a referral.

The services available will depend on your age and location. If you are under 18, your GP is likely to refer you to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). This referral can mean that you might be put on a waiting list. The GP might suggest other ways you can be supported whilst waiting for counselling.

If you’re already doing counselling and you’re not happy with it, you can speak to your counsellor. If you’re not comfortable discussing it with your counsellor, you can also speak to your GP. You can talk to them about why you’re not happy with the counselling and what you want to change.

It’s okay if you’re not happy with the counselling. Those sessions are a space to support you. For more information on counselling and what to do if you are unhappy with the sessions, have a look at our counselling and therapy page.

Therapy is like a journey to find yourself, except you take a guide along with you for support.
Eleanor

What if I’m not happy with the results of my appointment?

If you don’t agree with the treatment suggested to you, or want another opinion to make you feel more certain with the treatment, you can ask for a second opinion. Just ask your GP to recommend someone else who will assess you.

Before deciding to get a second opinion, it's best to speak to your GP about your reasons, as you can work through what you want from the appointment together. It can take time to work out what’s best for you. If you are finding it difficult to get what you need or feel uncomfortable with a particular doctor, you can ask the surgery to give you an appointment with a different one.

Will my doctor tell my parents/carers what I tell them?

When you talk to a doctor, everything you tell them is confidential – this means that they will not tell anyone else unless you agree otherwise.

Your doctor may encourage you to talk to your parents or carers, as it can help if the people looking after you know what’s going on. If you’d like your parents or carers to know what’s going on but don’t feel comfortable telling them yourself, you can ask your doctor to speak to them for you.

Your doctor may have to tell someone if they think you or someone else might not be safe, but they will try to let you know first. In these cases, they would generally talk to social services or the police rather than your family.

If you have any questions about confidentiality, talk to your GP.

Questions to ask your GP

Here are some questions that you might want to ask your GP during the appointment.

  • I don’t understand what that means for me – can you explain it?
  • What does a referral mean?
  • What’s the waiting time from a referral to start counselling
  • Where can I get help while I wait for counselling/CAMHS?
  • What does counselling mean?
  • What’s the difference between therapy and counselling?
  • How will medication help me?
  • Will the medication have any side effects?
  • How long does it take for the medication to start working?
  • How much of what I talk about with you is confidential?
  • How will counselling help me?
  • What’s the difference between taking medication and going to counselling?
  • Do I need to see you again?
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.
Honor

What are my rights?

Understanding your rights helps you to be in charge of your own treatment. Your GP should discuss with you confidentiality and sharing information with others.

You should always:

  • be asked for your consent if possible before treatment options are agreed
  • be given what you need to make decisions, e.g. an interpreter if you need one
  • know how to complain and what the complaint process is
  • be given access to an independent advocate if you need to complain

Under the UN's on the Rights of the Child, your opinion must always be taken seriously when decisions are made about your treatment. Read more about your rights under the UN laws.

What information is shared and with whom may depend on your age, support needs and risk level. If you are under 18, a GP may have to disclose information to protect you from serious harm. This is only done in particular cases and depends on each person’s case.

Accessibility for your appointment

It’s your right for your appointment to be accessible. When you register at your doctor’s surgery, they should ask you if you have any accessibility needs. This will go on your record so they can organise support. If they do not ask you when you register, you’ll need to let the doctors know.

Ways your GP can make appointments more accessible:

  • providing a chaperone (someone to go with you) for your appointment
  • providing a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreter when you visit your GP
  • providing information in a way that is more accessible if you have a disability, impairment or sensory loss. It can be what format you need information in, the best way to contact you or ways to support your communication needs.
  • making the surgery accessible if you have a disability, impairment or sensory loss

For more information on accessibility in surgeries and the NHS, see the Accessible Information Standard.

YoungMinds Crisis Messenger

Provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.

All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.

Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.

Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk of harm, they may share your details with people who can provide support.

Text: YM to 85258

Opening times: 24/7

Childline

If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

Phone: 0800 1111

Opening times: 9am - midnight, 365 days a year

The Mix

Offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them.

Email support available via their online contact form.

Free 1-2-1 webchat service available.

Free short-term counselling service available.

Phone: 0808 808 4994

Opening times: 4pm - 11pm, seven days a week

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