Talking to your GP about Mental Health

General Practitioners are a great first point of contact when navigating your mental health journey. Mental health difficulties, like physical illnesses or injuries, can be difficult to live with and deserve appropriate care and attention. We may be more attentive to any differences in our physical health and prioritise getting that checked, and similarly, we can become better at getting check-ups for our head space. It is normal to feel nervous or unsure about talking to your GP about your mental health, so we made a quick guide on what to expect from your appointment and what your GP can provide.

Do I need to see a GP?

Although symptoms vary extensively between each diagnosis, there are common symptoms which can indicate areas of concern. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Persistent negative thoughts about yourself

  • Frequently feeling anxious or worrying a lot

  • Concentration difficulties

  • Irritability or unusual changes in mood

  • Finding day to day life difficult (getting out of bed, showering, going to school or work)

  • Sleep difficulties or sleeping too much

  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there

If you have noticed any of these changes in the last few weeks or months, consider making an appointment with your GP.


What can my GP do for me?

Your GP is an important starting point for addressing any health concerns. Most GPs have a wealth of experience in assessing and supporting people various mental health issues. GPs can also refer you to mental health specialists or services such as counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists. GPs can provide reassurance, discuss what types of funding and resources are available, recommend any lifestyle changes that may be beneficial and invite you to attend follow-up appointments to check in with how you are responding to treatment.


Preparing for your appointment

You may wish to see a family GP or consult a new professional. When making the appointment you can ask the receptionist if there is a GP with a specialist interest in mental health and request to see them. You are not required to disclose your reasons for seeking an appointment to the reception team if you do not feel comfortable.

Before your appointment, it may be helpful to note down what you would like to discuss with your GP. This may include:

  • Noting any symptoms - how you are feeling and how your mood has been affecting your everyday functioning.

  • Key personal information that you feel comfortable sharing and find relevant. This may include any upsetting events in your past or current major stressful events, although you are not required to go in-depth.

  • List any current or previous mental or physical health conditions and medications you take.

  • You may also consider booking a longer consultation to allow for ample time and discussion. Feel free to bring a family member, friend or support person to your appointment if it will help make you feel more at ease.


During your appointment

Your GP may ask you to elaborate on your symptoms and lifestyle which can provide insight into your concerns. Your GP may also ask about the history of your concerns and complete any clinical questionnaires to inform their decision. Remember to:

  • Be open minded and curious: Your GP may recommend medication or referral to a mental health professional. Whether or not you have tried these before or are learning about it for the first time, give it some time and thought to make an informed decision. You can ask for further reading to evaluate options when you are back home. You can also book further appointments and consult with your support networks to equip your decision making.

  • Ask questions: Feel free to ask questions if there is something you are unsure about, do not fully understand or want more clarification. It is common to have certain biases or ideas about mental health treatment approaches – some of which may be misconceptions which can be clarified. Your GP can also brief you on the side effects or important considerations for any treatment option.

When discussing personal topics such as mental health, it is important to find a professional you feel comfortable with. If your discussion did not go the way you had hoped, it is okay and encouraged to consult with another GP. You may ask your family, friends or community for recommendations. Other options include:

  • Call the national free Healthline service on 0800 611 116

  • Search the Healthpoint database for GPs in your area

Opening up about your mental health can be a challenging but brave and necessary step to take. Remember that GPs are trained to deal with sensitive issues in a supportive and professional way. This may be a process and what is most important is that you are taking that first step.


Useful resources and references:

Healthpoint • Find up-to-date information about providers, referral expectations, services offered and common treatments

How to reach out to your GP for mental health support (clearhead.org.nz)

How to talk to your GP about your mental health | Mental Health Foundation

Accessing Mental Health Services | Mental Health Foundation

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