Tipsheet Talking to your GP

If you’re feeling worried about speaking to your GP about your mental health, here are some tips to prepare for your appointment.

Booking your appointment

  • When booking your appointment, give them an idea of what you want to discuss with the GP such as help with your emotional wellbeing. Any discussions you have with the reception team remain totally confidential. If the surgery knows the reason for your visit, they can advise you if they have a GP who specialises in mental health issues. If there is no such GP available, they can offer you an appointment with the best placed GP for your concerns.
  • You have the right to ask for a double appointment. The duration may vary depending on the practice and where you live, so ask the reception team what they can offer you. This is especially important if you’re seeing the GP about a mental health issue. Do be aware however that you might not have as much choice about the time and date of your appointment, but it’s a small price to pay for getting the right kind of help.
  • If you are not comfortable seeing the GP on your own, you have the right to ask a friend or family member to attend your appointment with you, although they will not be able to speak on your behalf. They will simply be there to sit in the room with you and not comment unless you or the GP asks them to do so. It can also be useful for them to take notes during the appointment – too often we leave a medical appointment only to forget some of the points that were discussed.
  • If you currently have a GP and don’t feel that they are the best match for you, speak with the surgery practice manager in confidence for advice. You have the right to switch GPs, or even find a new practice without telling anyone the reason(s).

Preparing for your appointment

Before your appointment, you might find it helpful to consider the following questions. The more information you provide the doctor with, the better placed they are to help you.

Make sure that you have time to answer the questions. This is not a job to rush. The more detail you can provide, the easier it will be for both you and your doctor to discuss the right approach for your particular concerns. And remember that these details will not be shared with anyone outside of you and your doctor. Bring two copies with you to your appointment: one for your GP to review and the other to remind you of your responses.

  • How are you currently feeling? (i.e. anxious, depressed, irritable, regularly exhausted, guilty, unable to focus or concentrate, hopeless )
  • How long have you felt this way? (weeks/months/longer)
  • Is there a certain time of day when you feel worse? (i.e. on waking, at bedtime)
  • Can you think of anything that may have contributed to your current state of wellbeing? (i.e. a bereavement, family issues, redundancy, money problems, relationship issues)
  • Do you feel that you’re becoming increasingly more distressed? If so, since when?
  • Have you recently considered self-harming or are you currently doing so?
  • Have you ever felt like life isn’t worth living? If so, is this recent?
  • How is your day-to-day life being affected? (i.e. poor sleep, problems eating, smoking or drinking more, difficulties at work, a lack of interest in daily activities, lowered performance at work)
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental health problem? Is so, when were you diagnosed, by whom, and what was your diagnosis?
  • Are you currently taking any medications, including any non-prescription medications? (include all, not just those related to your mental health)
  • Does anyone in your family suffer currently, or in the past, with a mental health problem that you know of?

Important: Bear in mind that this list isn’t meant to diagnose you – only a qualified medical professional can do that. It’s helpful in assisting you to clarify how you’re feeling so that your doctor knows what questions to ask.

During your appointment

Here are some helpful questions to ask during your appointment.

Your doctor may suggest various treatments to you, including medication, counselling, or a local support group. Depending on the severity of your issues, he or she may also refer you to your local Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) for a more in-depth assessment. Regardless of the options suggested, ask for details including:

  • Average wait times to access the support your doctor recommends
  • If you’re prescribed medication of any kind, ask your doctor for an information leaflet if there is one available. If he or she doesn’t have one, it’s important that you know about:
    • Possible side effects of the medication
    • Whether or not your medication could be addictive. If so, what is the plan to manage this
    • The duration of treatment your doctor recommends
    • How often you will need to see him or her for repeat prescriptions and/or an evaluation of your progress
    • How long the doctor expects it will be before you feel any improvement
    • Anything else you might need to know including:
      • Should you take it with or without food?
      • Could it affect any other medications you might be taking?
      • Is it advisable to avoid grapefruit while on the medication? (Please note that grapefruit can impact the way in which some drugs work).

Your pharmacist will also be able to explain your medication in more detail so don’t hesitate to ask him or her for full details.

Please remember that you have the right to have all of your questions answered. Make sure that you leave the surgery clear about everything the GP has said.