If you have found it difficult to access mental health services in your local area, and your GP has not been able to offer you options that feel right for you, there are a number of approaches you can take. Do note that service provision can be patchy in some areas due to changes in national funding for mental health services, and so you may need to travel to another area to access support groups and self-management programmes. However, the following mental health charities will be able to advise you on some of the options available to you.
Mental health charities
Mind – the National Association for Mental Health in England and Wales
Mind can help you to access support in your local area by providing advice and guidance on available services. Mind operates over 130 Local Mind associations (LMAs) in England and Wales which offer various services including social groups, self-help programmes, advice on financial wellbeing, support groups, and other helpful options. However, LMAs differ from region to region so contact them to find out more about their offer. Mind also offers a wide range of resources to help you find the type of support most suited to your specific needs. Visit www.mind.org.uk for more information.
Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH)
Offers a wide range of support services, information, and other resources. SAMH serves anyone living in Scotland who is struggling with their mental health.
Inspire Wellbeing for Northern Ireland
This service offers advice, guidance and support for anyone living in Northern Ireland who is struggling with their mental health. Visit Inspire for more information.
Rethink Mental Health
Rethink offers information and guidance on all aspects of mental health. Visit www.rethink.org for advice on accessing local support groups and other services
The Mental Health Foundation
Find a wide range of booklets and other information on all aspects of mental health including guidance on specific mental health conditions. Visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk for support. This charity also offers access to an online Mindfulness Programme designed to support people to manage stress and help them to address depression and anxiety. Visit www.bemindful.co.uk to see what’s involved.
If you’re interested in accessing support for a specific mental health condition, you might find the following useful – although please note that this list is not exhaustive.
Depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions
You can find a list of charities which support people struggling with their mental health here. Covering a wide range of conditions, you can find something that is best suited to your needs.
In additional to general mental health information, Rethink Mental Health also offers support for people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, as well as their families and friends. Visit www.rethink.org for more information.
Bipolar UK offers a range of services including local support groups, self-management programmes, newsletters, and other resources. Visit www.bipolaruk.org.uk for more information.
Getting the best from your GP
To tell someone else, whether this is your partner, a family member or your doctor, that you’re distressed, unwell, or not yourself is a big first step that many people find daunting. It’s important that you find a doctor you feel comfortable talking to, as many people find discussing their wellbeing confusing and distressing. You might find the points below useful in helping you to get the best from your GP and other health services:
- You should feel able to talk to your doctor about what is worrying you, discuss treatment options and ask questions, and they should be able to answer in terms and language that you can understand. If you are unhappy with the response you get from the doctor that you see, ask to see a different GP next time.
- Consider asking your GP surgery for a double appointment. You might not get the exact day and time you’d like but it’s well worth being flexible if you can. A longer appointment will allow you more time to ask questions and fully explain your concerns.
- Once you find a doctor that you like, it is best to stick with them because they will gradually get to know you. This can help as you will not have to keep repeating your story and symptoms, and doctors that know their patients over time can begin to recognise personal signs, symptoms and indicators of relapse or further illness.
- Be sure to write all of your concerns and questions down before your visit and bring them to your appointment. Include any symptoms you’re experiencing and try and note whether they have become worse over time. It’s also wise to note your triggers (such as lack of sleep, alcohol, stress) as this will help your GP to gain a better picture of the kind of help that will be most beneficial.
- Your GP should be working with you to make informed decisions about your care. If your GP decides that medication is right for you, ask about side effects and how long it will take for you to feel the effects of any drug prescribed. Finally, doctors should also follow up regularly on any medication you’re on and make sure that you’re tolerating it well and things are improving for you. This is known as a medication review and your GP will advise you on how often this will take place.
Choosing a doctor
There are some limitations involved in choosing a doctor. Most surgeries will only register people living in their catchment area, but you should be able to find one who suits your needs. When you register with a GP practice you will be registered with a named doctor, but often you can usually go and see any doctor in that practice who has an available appointment. If you are worried that your doctor will not know enough about your specific condition, ask the practice nurse if there is a doctor in your practice who has specialist knowledge about mental health problems. If no such doctor is available, consider looking at other local surgeries to see what they can offer in terms of specific expertise and experience. And remember – you have the right to switch to another surgery without having to give anyone a reason for your decision.
If your GP decides to refer to you a psychiatrist (and this may be the case if you’re experiencing very long-standing distress or your GP thinks that you may be suffering from a chronic condition), you will be referred to one in your local area. It’s not always possible to choose your psychiatrist but you have the right to request a referral to another psychiatrist if you feel you would benefit. You should be able to ask questions about your diagnosis and treatment and they should answer in a way that you can understand. If this is not the case, seek advice from your GP.
Community mental health team (CMHT)
A community mental team is comprised of a group of mental health professionals who work together to support people with a wide range of mental health problems. The different professions all have different knowledge and skills which can be used to tackle problems together.
How can I be referred?
Your GP might try to help you with a mental health problem by giving support, prescribing medication, or referring you to a counsellor or psychotherapist. But if your problems are of a specific type, you may be referred to your local CMHT. Please note that you cannot refer yourself to your local CMHT but must be referred by your GP. Not everyone will be suitable for such a referral so it’s important to ask if this is an option for your condition or situation.
How will the CMHT help me?
They will help to sort out what areas you need help with, keep an eye on how you are, develop your strengths, work to find answers to your current problems, and help you to recover.
How will I be seen?
You may be seen on your own, in a group with other people or, sometimes, with your friends or family. Mental health workers share a number of important skills, but can also use their more specialist skills when needed. These professions include:
- Community psychiatric nurses (CPN)
- Social workers
- Occupational therapists (OT)
- Clinical psychologists
These can include outreach workers, benefits workers, support workers, recovery workers, vocational therapists, art therapists and psychotherapists.
Where are CMHTs located?
The team will have a base similar to a clinic. They may see you there but can also see you in an outpatient clinic, GP surgery, day centre, or your home, depending on your specific needs and situation.