Discussing your mental health with a doctor for the first time might seem daunting but you really needn’t worry. Here are a few of my personal tips for getting the most out of your appointment and looking after yourself at the same time.
1. Book a double appointment if you think you’ll need more than ten minutes. I actually didn’t know you could do this, but luckily my doctor spent a good half an hour with me anyway!
2. Don’t be ashamed to cry. The doctor won’t think you’re being silly, they won’t judge you and they most definitely will have seen it all before! Remember that by nature doctors are caring people and will only want to help you.
3. Be honest. You don’t need to sugar coat how you’re feeling when you speak to a doctor. It will help them make a better decision about your treatment if you give them all the facts.
4. Take notes in with you. It’s very easy to get muddled or forget to mention things, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed or upset. Making the notes with someone close to you (only if you feel comfortable) could be a good idea too, as they’ll be able to help you organise your thoughts and offer an outside perspective. Aim to be as clear as possible about how you feel, how long you’ve been feeling it for, and the impact it’s having on your day-to-day life. For example, is it stopping you leaving the house, or affecting how well you take care of yourself?
5. Make sure you leave the appointment understanding your treatment plan. If you’re prescribed medication, ask the doctor when they’ll want to see you again to check in. They’ll likely want to see you fairly regularly, at least at first, to make sure the medication and dosage is right for you. Have an idea of time frames and maybe even book your next appointment there and then (if possible).
6. Ask all the questions you need. Don’t feel bad for doing this. You’re not being a pain, that’s what the doctor is there for and ultimately they will want to reassure you. It’s useful to have an idea of how long they expect you’ll be on the medication for, and any potential side-effects. Ask if there’s anything you should avoid – alcohol, other medications, natural supplements, etc.
7. Your usual doctor may not be the right one for you in this particular situation, but that’s OK. If you don’t feel listened to, supported or understood, don’t be deterred. Your feelings are valid, so please don’t start to doubt that. Instead seek out the care you deserve by making an appointment with a different doctor. It’s important to have a GP you trust and feel comfortable with, as you’ll likely see them quite regularly, at least at first.
8. You may well be asked some very direct and possibly uncomfortable questions. They’ll likely ask if you’ve ever felt suicidal, or if you think you could be at risk of harming yourself. It might not be a pleasant conversation, but it’s important to remember that these are routine questions and the doctor is asking them with your best interests at heart, not to judge you. Take your time answering, and please remember that when it comes to how you’re feeling there’s never a wrong answer. Whatever you say will simply help the doctor decide on the best treatment for you.
9. Remember, your doctor can do more than just prescribe you medication. They will be able to refer you to local mental health services for counselling, and can even give advice on diet and lifestyle changes that may help. They may well ask you more general questions about your life (family, work, friends, etc.) to get a clearer picture of any other challenges you may be facing, as well as what kind of support system you have.
10. Be kind to yourself. Keep some time free after your appointment to do something that will make you happy. Maybe treat yourself to a hot chocolate, watch your favourite TV show or have a nice long bath.
11. Lastly, and most importantly, never feel ashamed for seeking help. I can’t stress this enough. In no way does needing help make you weak, worthless or a burden.
It takes a great deal of strength and courage to open up to another person, so be proud of yourself.
If you live in Gloucestershire and are aged 9-21, you can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. TIC+ works hard at raising funds so they can arrange for a counsellor to see you for free, all you need to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to arrange an appointment. We know it can be hard to take that first step but, like the other young people we’ve helped, you’ll be so glad you did.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call Childline on 0800 1111, NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.
For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!