Seeking help for a mental health problem

A guide to taking the first steps, making empowered decisions and getting the right support for you.

Your stories

What is mental health and mental wellbeing?

Taryn blogs about mental health and wellbeing. What do they mean to you?

Taryn Ozorio
Posted on 24/01/2011

The importance of choice – access to talking therapies

Al blogs for us about the importance of choice and having access to the right talking therapy to suit you.

Posted on 02/12/2013

Talking made me feel less alone

Jess blogs about her experience of opening up about her mental health and the support she received as a result

Jess
Posted on 06/02/2014

How do I take the first steps?

Seeking help for a mental health problem can be a really important step towards getting and staying well, but it can be hard to know how to start or where to turn to. On this page you’ll find information about:

When is it ok to seek help?

It's common to feel unsure about seeking support for your mental health, and to feel like you ought to wait until you can't handle things on your own. But it's always ok for you to seek help – even if you're not sure if you are experiencing a specific mental health problem

Some reasons why you might choose to seek help could include:

  • finding it difficult to cope with your thoughts and feelings
  • thoughts and feelings having an impact on your day-to-day life
  • wanting to find out about available support
The first time I went to my GP about my depression, I was completely terrified. I had suffered in silence for 6 months, and was so ashamed that I couldn't 'fix' it myself. Thankfully my GP was lovely and really seemed to care. She prescribed an antidepressant and suggested that I contact my University counselling service, and wanted me to return regularly to monitor the medication's effects.

Who can I talk to?

The best way to start is normally by talking to a health care professional, such as your doctor (also known as your General Practitioner or GP). 

Your GP can:

  • make a diagnosis
  • offer you support and treatments
  • refer you to a specialist service

(For more information on different kinds of health care professionals and what they do, see our pages on who’s who in mental health.)

How do I find a GP?

The NHS provides an online tool for finding GP surgeries near you, which you can access through their website here. Alternatively you can think about accessing health care through the private sector.

When registering with a GP surgery, you might like to think about:

  • how close it is to your home or work
  • if its opening times are convenient for you
  • whether it offers specialist services
  • looking for patient reviews on the surgery’s website

What should I say to my GP?

It can be hard to know how to talk to your doctor about your mental health – especially when you’re not feeling well. But it’s important to remember that there is no wrong way to tell someone how you’re feeling.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Be honest and open.
  • Focus on how you feel, rather than what diagnosis you might meet.
  • Try to explain how you’ve been feeling over the past few months or weeks, and anything that has changed.
  • Use words and descriptions that feel natural to you – you don’t have to say specific things to get help.
  • Try not to worry that your problem is too small or unimportant – everyone deserves help and your doctor is there to support you.

Being as open and honest as possible, even though extremely difficult, is what has assisted me.

(See our pages on types of mental health problems for more ideas about how to talk about mental health.)

How can I prepare?

GP appointments are usually very short, and if you’re feeling nervous you might forget to say things you think are important. Being prepared can help you get the most out of your appointment.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Write down what you want to say in advance, and take your notes in with you.
  • Give yourself enough time to get to your appointment, so that you don’t feel rushed or stressed.
  • If you’re feeling nervous, let your doctor know.
  • Think about taking someone with you to support you, like a close friend or family member.
  • If you’ve talked to your family or friends about how you feel, practise what you might say to your GP with them.
  • Highlight or print out any information you’ve found that helps you explain how you’re feeling.
  • If you have a few things to talk about, you can ask for a longer appointment (you'll need to do this when you're booking it in).

This information was published in January 2015. We will revise it in 2017.

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