for better mental health

Seeking help for a mental health problem

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

How can I get actively involved in my care?

Making decisions about your treatment should be a conversation, involving both you and your healthcare professionals. This is sometimes called shared decision making.

Remember that it takes two kinds of expertise to find the right treatment for you:

  • Professional expertise on:
    • medical knowledge
    • different diagnoses
    • what might be effective treatment.
  • Your own expertise on:
    • your experiences
    • how you feel
    • what you want.

Can I choose my GP practice, doctor or nurse?

Having a good relationship with your GP can be a really important way of getting the right support. If you're not making progress with your current GP, you can:

  • Ask the receptionist to make you an appointment with a different doctor. They don't have to say yes, but if they say no then they should give you a reasonable explanation (for example, if your GP surgery is very small or other doctors aren't available on the days you need).
  • Ask to talk to a different type of practitioner, like a nurse, specialist mental health worker or practice counsellor.
  • Ask your doctor to refer you to a mental health specialist.
  • Move to a different GP surgery if there is one in your local area, although you will have to register with them and this could delay seeing someone.
  • Self-refer to another service without your GP (in some cases). If you live in England you can use the 'Find psychological therapy (IAPT) services' tool on the NHS Choices website to find out if there's a self-referral service near you. You may also be able to access therapy without a referral through third sector services.

(See our page on talking to your GP for tips on getting the most from a GP appointment.)

"My practice nurse was great as a go-between with the GP, who then knew how to handle my appointments and where to suggest we go to for help."

Can I choose my treatment?

When deciding what treatment to offer you, your doctor is likely to follow the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines. These set out recommendations for different kinds of conditions based on evidence for what helps.

The most common treatments recommended for mental health problems are talking therapies and psychiatric medication. But treatments work differently from person to person, and it's not always possible to predict what will suit you best. You might have to try different things to find out what works for you. So it's important to keep talking to your doctor about how you're feeling, and letting them know what you want. (See our pages on talking to your GP, understanding your options and making yourself heard for tips.)

"I was involved in choices about my medication. We agreed on a particular antipsychotic because of my issues around weight... and the change happened because of me! That made me feel in charge of my own care."

Can I choose a time and place that suits me?

Whatever treatment you're offered, your healthcare provider should aim to deliver it within a reasonable amount of time and in a reasonable location. You can:

  • choose the service closest to where you live, or refuse a service if it's too far away
  • ask for home visits (if you find it hard to leave your home)
  • ask for an estimate of how long the waiting lists are for suitable therapies (you might decide on a particular treatment because it is available more quickly).

If you're offered medication you can:

  • discuss when you will start, how long you will take it and when you will come off it
  • ask for a medication review at any time
  • ask your doctor for other support while you are waiting (if you need to see a specialist first).

However, there are likely to be limits to when and where you receive treatment. Some services only exist in certain areas. And unfortunately, there can be long waiting times to access talking therapies through the NHS.

(See our page on facing and overcoming barriers for information on what you can do if the treatment you want isn't available.)

This information was published in December 2017. We will revise it in 2020.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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