I am sure that a lot of people never make the call to their GP because they are nervous and do not know what to say. This leads to them suffering longer than they need to. Here is some advice on how to get help from your doctor
- The phone call to arrange the appointment feels huge to you, to the receptionist taking the call it is a run of the mill diary booking. This will result in a mismatch of feeling on the call. Expect that and don’t let it confuse you when it happens.
- Your GP speaks to a lot of patients about their mental health. They will not be shocked by you, they will not judge you. This is something they are very used to. Again, this will feel at odds with how you feel about the appointment. Try and bring yourself to their energy level as best you can. Draw from their calm.
- Write down what you plan to say. In the moment it will feel easy to avoid saying how you feel. The emotions of seeking help can sometimes cause us to downplay our symptoms. Having them written down in advance helps us to hold ourselves accountable to being honest about our situation.
- Write down your symptoms and their severity. Write down how long you have been feeling this way. Write down anything that you think exacerbates or triggers your illness.
- Be prepared to be asked if you have considered hurting yourself. This is normal. It can feel accusatory but it is part of the normal procedure for a doctor. Be honest in your answer.
- Write down what you hope the outcomes of the appointment will be. If you want to start medication or receive guidance on where to receive therapy then have notes to remind you to share those desires with the doctor.
- If you think it would make a difference to whether or not you will seek help, it is acceptable to have someone accompany you to the appointment. If you do have someone join you I advise that they take simple notes of what is said and what the doctor suggests. It is very easy for an anxious mind to miss those details because they are caught up in the stress of the moment.
- It is likely that the GP will give you information about medical, therapeutic and non-treatment based help such as exercise plans or dietary advice. For example, it may be suggested that you consider cutting out stimulants such as caffeine from your diet. If there is a lot of information, ask for time to write it down before leaving the clinic.
- If you are given medication be sure to arrange and stick to any review schedule. It is possible that the first medication you are prescribed does not work perfectly for you or has too many side effects. It is important that you continue to discuss your medication with your GP to make sure the dosage and medication are correct. Again, keep a written record of the things you would wish to raise with the GP.
- If you think it would be helpful you can request copies of the GPs notes and a record of any advice about specific treatment options given by the doctor. Sometimes this gives a little peace of mind to those suffering from anxiety.
- It can be helpful to track and record your mood once you begin treatment. This will be helpful when you are reviewing your medication.
The key to keeping your anxiety about your first appointment low is preparation. When you are suffering in your mental health this preparation can be exhausting but that preparation will make the experience a lot more specific to your needs. Don’t accept the thought that you are being a drain upon the doctor or that your questions are stupid. Being heard and having your questions answered will help you commit to your recovery.
This is a chapter from my book The Voices That Haunt Us. It’s the story of my life with mental illness and what I’ve learned. You can find it on Amazon.