Discussing mental health for the first time, or even the twentieth time isn’t always easy. I’ve certainly had mixed experiences when it comes to speaking with health professionals about my mental health. As is often the case for some people I found it really difficult at first to even reach out and ask for help – it took me a very long time to finally seek professional support. I cannot tell you the number of self-diagnosis tools I used or mood evaluations I completed, the number of times I read the NHS website on depression, low mood and anxiety – or the amount of support websites and online resources I pretty much studied in the hope of somehow finding a ‘cure’ to how I was feeling. Like many other people I definitely hung up the phone a few times when trying to make that first point of contact with professional help. I was terrified to ask for help, yet for so long I was desperate for something, desperate for someone to just realise how much I was struggling, and for them to reach out and instantly, magically fix everything.
As a student there were many available options ready and waiting for me in terms of support – I just needed to make that first step. I’d registered with my university health services, and I was aware of the university counselling team and all the other options, yet I still couldn’t bring myself to make that first point of contact. It wasn’t until my final year, after a pretty bad panic attack one evening in London that I managed to bring myself to visit the drop in counselling services at my university. (My university was in Birmingham – so I’d had a three hour train journey that morning where I’d managed to talk myself in and out of going to the drop in session). It was a friend of mine who’d encouraged me to go, she was ready and waiting after the session, and I was able to just talk about how ‘weird’ I’d found it to finally attempt to ‘face up’ to what I was experiencing with the support of a counsellor. Then started my first round of counselling – yet at this point I’d still not had that first discussion with my GP.
After meeting with a counsellor several times I finally decided to book an appointment with my GP to discuss my mental health. I was terrified – admittedly I still get very apprehensive now when it comes to speaking with my GP about mental health – there’s various factors that unnerve me a little – back in October I moved GP surgeries and I haven’t felt as comfortable at my new surgery in comparison to how at ease I felt discussing things at my previous surgery. My previous surgery – a medical practice that was in partnership with my university – was fantastic, and played such an important role in my recovery.
That first meeting with the GP was terrifying – not terrifying because of the fear of not being understood, but rather terrifying in the sense of – well the thought, the prospect of what I was doing. Part of me felt incredibly ashamed, weak, as if I was ‘giving in’ – I felt unable to control myself, and terrified that I’d come across as dramatic, and silly. That my friends is the result of mental health stigma. There’s such a negative perspective of mental health – the impression of being weak minded, and unable to ‘control’ your emotions and your reactions – how can anybody else help you if you can’t help yourself? You weren’t made ‘wrong’, you’re just weak. That’s how I felt, weak and as though I was surrendering. Of course the GP would only pretend to care whilst I was in the room, in my appointment, then after he/she would go off and laugh at how weak and dramatic I was.
All my preconceptions were wrong, so very wrong. My GP (or rather Advanced Nurse Practitioner) was fantastic. She didn’t put words in my mouth, I didn’t feel judged, and most importantly – I didn’t feel as though I had to delve into an in-depth version of my life story (condensed to a fifteen minute appointment). I felt as though I was being listened to, and I felt as though I was still able to control and make informed decisions on what to do next in terms of my ‘recovery.’ It was a start, I didn’t leave feeling weak, but of course I didn’t leave feeling cured either. I still had – still have – a long way to go, but the support from my previous surgery was incredible. My counsellor contacted my GP (Advanced Nurse Practitioner ANP) in the form of a letter providing a brief overview as to triggers, symptoms and all that sort of stuff. That helped me a great deal because it was definitely useful feeling as though the nurse already had a sense of what was occurring – rather than asking me tonnes of intrusive questions in an attempt to make a diagnosis.
I was put on medication – which I wasn’t too fond of, but I did, and do still feel comfortable (most of the time) with the medication. The medication has helped – I still have mixed feelings toward it, but I was comfortable that we’d made the right decision – everything was explained to me and I felt as though I was involved in the decision process. My relationship with my GP really turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise – it was very easy to access the doctors surgery – and I had contact with the same GP/ nurse while going through several changes to counselling (I had two separate counsellors before being referred to my Community Mental Health Team). My GP was key in getting me in contact and supporting me in terms of meeting with my CMHT.
Things became tricky when, after two years at the previous surgery I had to switch to a new medical centre – due to no longer being a student, as well as moving house. The trickiest part for me was switching from feeling incredibly supported to feeling as though I wasn’t even able to discuss my mental health at my new surgery. After almost eight months as this new surgery I have still only discussed my mental health with them twice. I order my medication through a prescription request and all mental health related discussions are dealt with through my Community Mental Health Team. I did mention to the new GP one time about my mental health, but I felt as though the GP didn’t understand me – which was a very unfamiliar, and discomforting experience. I’ve written before about how I felt my GP wasn’t very helpful – in fact the new GP laughed at me when I was discussing my experience of dissociation – so naturally I’ve been terrified to even bring up mental health related matters at this new surgery. In fact, I really struggle to discuss mental health with my GP now, and I often become very anxious at the thought of discussing matters related to my treatment and so forth.
I’ve had fantastic – and awful experiences when it comes to discussing mental health with a GP – which is why I’ve been so pleased that Mind have launched their #findthewords campaign – alongside releasing a short film and guide on how to make the most out of talking to your GP about mental health.