Talking to your GP about your mental health
Your doctor is there for your mental health as well as your physical health. It’s not always easy to start the conversation, but it’s always ok to ask for help.
*Last updated: 18 August 2021
If you’ve noticed changes to how you think and feel that are concerning you, talk to your GP about them. There might be an obvious cause for your feelings – like a bereavement or work stress – or you might not know why you feel the way you do. It’s ok to seek help either way.
Many of us find it hard to find the words to talk about how we’re feeling. But you don’t have to put off making an appointment until you’re at crisis point. Being prepared can make your appointment feel a little easier. The sooner you go, the sooner you can start to feel better.
Getting the most out of your appointment
Being prepared can help you get the most out of your appointment.
- If you have a few things to talk about, ask for a longer appointment when you book it in. You can book a 20 minute appointment rather than the usual ten minutes if you need it.
- Ask if you want a specific GP: for example, a male or female GP, or one that speaks your first language.
- Ask a friend or relative to come with you for support if you want someone with you.
- Prepare a list of the concerns you want to discuss. Think about your symptoms, how long you’ve felt this way and how it affects your life. Doc Ready lets you build your own checklist of things you want to talk about.
- Write down any questions you want to ask. For example, you may want to know if medication or talking therapy could help, what you can do to help yourself or how long treatment will take.
During your appointment, there are things you can do to make the most of your time.
- Be open and honest. GPs hear personal things all the time and are trained to deal with them in a professional and supportive way.
- Tell your GP if there are things you think might help you.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions or get your GP to repeat things.
- Ask them to write down anything you don't understand and make notes during the appointment if you need to.
- Make sure you fully understand what the next steps are before you leave the room.
Our free guide How to talk to your GP about your mental health has more ideas on how to make the most of your appointment.
What might my GP suggest?
Your GP is likely to ask you questions about:
- your physical and emotional symptoms
- any recent events that might be affecting how you feel
- your drug and alcohol use and any thoughts of hurting yourself
- your medical history and your family history, especially in terms of any mental health conditions.
Based on what you say, your GP might:
- make a diagnosis, for example of anxiety, stress or depression
- refer you to another service such as talking therapies or a specialist mental health team
- give you the details of a service you can contact yourself such as a community mental health team
- advise you on self-help measures such as how to reduce stress, get better sleep or eat well
- prescribe you medication to treat your condition. They should explain what it’s for as well as the risks and benefits so you can decide whether or not to take it.
Your GP will usually make a follow-up appointment for a few weeks’ time so they can see how you’re doing. Of course, you can make an earlier appointment if things aren’t getting better or you have any worries.
If you’re not happy with the outcome of your appointment
If you’re not happy with how your appointment went or unsure about the advice you were give, you can ask for a second opinion from another GP or a specialist. You can make an appointment with another GP at your practice, or change practice altogether if they refuse to arrange a second opinion.
If you disagree with how your GP wants to treat your mental health problem, or you’re unhappy about the service provided by your GP practice, you may wish to make a complaint. You can speak to your GP or the practice manager or make a written complaint. Ask at reception for the practice’s complaints procedure or find it on their website.
If this doesn’t resolve the problem, you can complain to NHS England ([email protected] or 0300 311 2233). There’s a different process in other parts of the UK.
- In Wales, contact your Community Health Council. Information about how to complain is on the Putting Things Right website.
- in Scotland, contact your local NHS health board.
- in Northern Ireland, contact your local Health and Social Care Board.
If you think your GP needs to be investigated, complain to the General Medical Council (GMC). All doctors have to be registered with the GMC.
How can I find a GP?
You must be registered with a local practice to make an appointment. It’s easy and quick to register and see any of their GPs. You can call, email or visit a local practice to see if you can join. To find local GP practices:
- in England, use the NHS online service search tool
- in Wales, visit NHS 111 Wales
- in Scotland visit NHS Inform
- in Northern Ireland visit NI Direct.
You can change GPs whenever you want. For example, you may want to move if you’ve had a bad experience at your current practice, or if you want to join one that offers specialised counselling or mental health services. In England, the NHS website lets you look at ratings and reviews from people who have used the practice.
Common concerns about talking to your GP about your mental health
Will everything I say be kept confidential?
Everything you tell your GP is confidential unless they think you’re at risk of seriously harming yourself or someone else. In this case, they should still generally keep you informed about what will happen next. They might ask to see you again soon, ask you to tell other people yourself, or tell another health or social care professional so they can assess you to see if you need to go to hospital. In very rare cases, they may tell the police.
I’m worried I’ll be judged by my GP.
A third of GP appointments involve talking about mental wellbeing, so your doctor will be very used to hearing about mental health concerns. They won’t judge you for having mental ill-health any more than they’d judge you for having a rash or stomach pain.
I’m worried I won’t be listened to or taken seriously.
If you’re depressed or anxious, these thoughts could be part of your condition. It’s common to have low self-worth and fear no-one cares or understands you. Try not to let these thoughts stop you from making an appointment.
And remember – if you’re not happy with how your GP treats you, you can switch to another one or move to a new GP practice.