Talking to your GP about a
Mental Health Problem
Many of us never ask for help with our mental
health problems – or we wait until things are really bad before we
do. It can be hard to know what do first.
Your GP is obviously interested in your
physical health – but will also want to know about any mental
health problems that trouble you.
It can be hard to take that first step, so we
have put together this guide on what you can expect from your GP –
and how to get the most out of your appointment.
We hope that this short leaflet can help you
to feel more confident about talking to your GP about a mental
What sort of changes in my mental health should I be
- lose your appetite
- feel low
- worry more than usual
- be more critical about yourself
- be irritable or moody
- find it harder than usual to concentrate
- find it harder to enjoy life
- find it harder to look after yourself - you
may not feel up to washing or eating, for example
- find it hard to sleep - or sleep too
- See or hear things that other people do not
see or hear.
These things can happen slowly. It’s easy to
ignore them – until you feel really bad.
You can find out more about the symptoms of
mental health problems at www.rcpsych.ac.uk/info
If you’ve noticed changes like this and feel
that you just aren’t right, get in touch with your GP. It can
be hard to talk about your mental health, but most people find that
their GP can give them help and support which makes a real
“My GP has been absolutely
amazing. He has been relentless in getting me help from every
source possible. I would not be here today if it wasn't for
How your GP can help
- Ask questions to help them – and you -
understand what you are going through and what help you can
- Refer you for a talking therapy.
- Suggest medication.
- Suggest practical things you can do to help
yourself to feel better.
- Make another appointment in a few weeks’ time
to see how you’re doing. They may refer you to a specialist if they
think that would be helpful.
But I can’t take it any more …..
If you feel that you just can’t go on or have
thought of taking your own life, do talk to someone. You can:
- Call your GP surgery and ask
to speak to someone urgently.
- Call the Samaritans on 116
123. They can give you someone to talk to over the phone,
completely confidential, 24 hours a day.
- You can go to your local
A&E department and talk to a psychiatric nurse – but there may
be a bit of a wait.
Registering with a GP - and booking an
You must be registered with a local practice
to make an appointment. It’s easy and quick to register with a
practice near where you live.
Getting the best GP for you
You can change your GP if you want. This might
- You may need a practice that has specialist
counselling or mental health services. You can phone the practice
to ask what they offer, or look at the NHS Choices website.
- You aren’t getting on with your practice or
your GP. England’s NHS Choices website lists patient
reviews and gives each practice a Patient Survey score.
- Ask the receptionist if there is a GP with a
specialist interest in mental health - and ask to see them. You can
also ask to see a male or female GP. You do not need to tell the
receptionist why you are making an appointment. You can just say
you’d prefer not to say.
Will you have to wait a long time for an appointment to
see a GP?
This depends on how busy the surgery is. If
you need to be seen urgently, then you may be able to get an
emergency appointment through the surgery’s reception. If you
prefer to see a particular doctor then you might have to wait
longer, until they have appointment free.
Before your appointment
It might be helpful to write down what you’d
like to talk about, so that you don’t forget anything. Take a few
minutes before the appointment to write a list of things you want
to discuss. These could include:
- How you’re feeling and how your mood is
affecting your day to day life.
- What’s happened in your life - upsetting
events in your past and any current stresses.
- Any medical information - other
physical or mental health conditions and the names and amounts of
medications, herbal remedies or supplements you take.
- Feel free to take a family member or friend
along to your appointment if it will help you feel more
- Questions to ask, like:
- What type of mental health problem do I
- Why can't I get over this on my own?
- How do you treat my type of mental illness or
- Will counselling or psychotherapy help?
- Are there medications that might help?
- How long will treatment take?
- What can I do to help myself?
- Do you have any leaflets or other printed
material that I can have?
- What websites do you recommend?
Don’t feel shy about asking your GP if
you don't understand something.
Remember that you are not alone:
- 1 in 3 GP appointments are
for mental health and wellbeing issues.
- 1 in 4 people will have some
kind of mental health problem in the course of their life. Tackling
problems early can stop them from getting worse.
During your appointment
A typical GP appointment is around ten minutes
long. This may not be long enough to talk about a mental health
problem. So - you can book a ‘double appointment’ if you feel you
need more time to talk things over.
When you see your GP, try to be as open and
honest as you can. They will ask a lot of questions to understand
how you’re doing, so be sure to tell them how you’re really feeling
and how your symptoms are affecting you. If you’ve written down
some notes, you can use these to remind yourself.
It can be difficult to talk to someone you
don’t know about your feelings. But GPs are trained to deal
with sensitive issues in a professional and supportive way, so
there is no need to be embarrassed. Everything you tell them is
legally confidential, unless they are worried that you may be a
danger to yourself or others.
When you see your GP, ask as many
questions as you want and check the notes you have prepared. It is
always worth asking:
- Why your GP is suggesting a particular treatment.
- Whether there are other things that could help.
If you know of things that have helped
in the past, tell your GP.
Sometimes, just talking things over with your
GP may be enough. But there are times when your GP may make a
diagnosis and can suggest treatment. This could be self-help, a
talking therapy, or medication. It can be about staying, as well as
getting over your current situation.
If you decide to take medication, your GP
should tell you:
- How it might help.
- What side effects might
It can be difficult to take in everything your
GP tells you, especially if you are feeling depressed or upset. If you don’t understand
something, just ask your GP to repeat it.
Do ask for more information and support with
how you are feeling. Write down anything you don’t understand. If
your GP suggests medication, do ask what other things might be
available - talking therapies, exercise or practicing
Your GP will make notes of what was discussed
at the appointment and these are recorded on your medical file.
This will be kept confidential, but you may also like to make a
note of what was said after the appointment. You may know what
steps you’d like to take after meeting your GP or you may need some
time to think it over. You can let your GP know what you plan to do
at a later date.
It’s usually best to have a follow up
appointment with your GP. You can tell them how things have
developed or review your treatment.
- If the GP has prescribed medication, he
or she should see you within 2 weeks to see if it’s helping. If
there are any problems with treatment, or if you feel worse, see
your GP again to discuss it. They might need to refer you to a
specialist for more help.
- Even if your GP has referred you to a
specialist mental health service, He or she will still be looking
after your physical health. They should also keep in touch with
mental health services.
- If you have been under the Care Programme
Approach (CPA) but have been discharged, your GP will look after
both your physical and mental health needs.
- If you have a longer-lasting mental illness,
such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, you will be more likely
to get some physical illnesses. So, your GP should arrange a health
check for you every year. This could include:
- Taking your pulse and blood pressure
- Urine and blood tests
- Checking your weight.
Getting a Second Opinion
You can ask for a second opinion from another
GP or a specialist:
- If you’re unhappy with how you’ve been
- If you want to confirm that
the advice or support you were given was correct.
You can also make an appointment with another
GP in the practice, or change practice altogether if your GP
refuses to arrange a second opinion for you.
Sometimes seeing a different doctor can make
all the difference.
“When I first became ill and went
to the GP with whom I was registered, he was useless and
unsympathetic. I was advised by a friend to see a different GP in
my practice. WOW what a difference; right from the start he
listened, empathised, gave me the time and support I needed when I
was scared and confused and referred me to the correct mental
If you're unhappy about the service you’ve had
from your GP, or the practice, you may want to make a complaint.
You can talk to the GP or Practice Manager, or put it in
A leaflet in the practice reception or on
their website will tell you how to make a formal complaint.
If you don’t feel happy with the way they have
dealt with your complaint, depending on where you live in the UK,
the NHS complaints process may be slightly different.
If you don't want to complain directly to your
GP surgery, you need to contact:
Under the NHS Constitution, you have the right
to have your formal written complaint acknowledged within three
working days - and then to have it properly investigated.
You can also take your complaint to the
Parliamentary and Health
Service Ombudsman if you aren't satisfied with the way your
complaint has been dealt with by the NHS.
This factsheet was produced by the Royal College of
Psychiatrists' Public Engagement Editorial Board.
We are grateful to the Mental Health Foundation for
giving the College permission to adapt their
leaflet on 'How to talk to your GP'.
Series Editor: Dr Philip Timms
© November 2014. Due for review: November
2017. Royal College of Psychiatrists. This factsheet may be
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