Seeking help for a mental health problem can be difficult, and you might sometimes face barriers to getting the treatment you need and deserve. This page covers:
What if my doctor won’t offer me the treatment I want?
Sometimes your doctor might not offer you a particular treatment, even when it is available. Possible reasons for this might be:
- They think it’s unlikely to help you.
- They think it could be harmful to you – for example, if you have had previous problems with addiction your doctor might choose not to offer you potentially addictive medication, such as certain tranquillisers.
- They’ve overlooked it – sometimes doctors aren’t aware of all local services, or don’t remember to let you know that you can use them.
If your doctor won’t offer you a particular treatment you can always ask them for an explanation, and ask if there is an alternative that they can suggest.
Can I ask for a second opinion?
You can ask for a second opinion from another GP or psychiatrist and, where possible, your doctor should allow this. They will normally need to make the referral and explain your reasons.
However, you do not have a legal right to a second opinion, so your doctor could refuse. It's harder to get a second opinion from a psychiatrist than a GP because there are fewer of them practising.
I've found that [my] care has varied widely, and the primary issue I have encountered absolutely everywhere is the lack of signposting to the care options available.
What if the treatment I need isn't available?
Unfortunately, not all treatments are equally available across the country. And even in places where the service you need exists, there can often be very long waiting times to access treatment through the NHS. You can ask your doctor for a different kind of treatment, but this won’t always be possible because of cost or availability.
We understand how frustrating and upsetting this can be. You might be able to find an alternative option to explore in our page on where to start, and our section on what if I've tried everything? might offer more ideas you could try. It's not an option for everyone, but some people consider treatment through the private sector.
What if I've tried everything and nothing works?
If you've already explored all the options your doctor has offered, and you haven't found the help you're looking for yet, it can feel like you've tried everything and nothing works. Unfortunately finding the help you need can sometimes be really difficult, and can take time.
But it's important to remember that you're not alone, and that you deserve support.
- Keep trying – don't give up. If you've had bad experiences with the people and professionals you've spoken to so far, you could give them another chance – or try again with someone new. (See our pages on being actively involved and making yourself heard more tips.)
- Develop your coping techniques. Planning positive ways look after yourself while you're on waiting lists can help you cope. (See our page on self-care for mental health problems for tips.)
- Talk to people who understand. Getting support and encouragement from people who've been in a similar situation can be really valuable, even if they can't change what you're going through. (See our pages on peer support for more information.)
- Explore any alternatives. Our information pages on treatments and therapies could give you more options to discuss with your doctor. There may be something you haven't tried yet that could be helpful.
- Find an advocate. An advocate can help you express your views and wishes, and help you access the help and support you deserve (see our pages on advocacy for more information).
- Know your rights. Our legal pages explain your rights in a range of situations. If you're being treated unfairly by healthcare professionals, you can complain.
Getting help can feel like a mammoth task at the beginning and it’s very easy to feel disheartened if the outcome isn’t what you’d hoped for. But there is always somewhere else you can get help and the majority of people working and volunteering in mental health do genuinely care about helping you get the support you need for your recovery.
What if I'm unhappy with how professionals are treating me?
Unfortunately, some people can have very negative experiences with the healthcare system. Our legal pages offer lots of information about your legal rights, and what you can do to make sure your rights are being respected.
In some situations you might feel so unhappy with how you've been treated that you want to make a formal complaint about it. This might happen if you feel that:
- you've been treated unfairly by your doctor or another healthcare professional
- your doctor or healthcare provider has made a mistake or failed to provide proper care (this is sometimes called clinical negligence)
- you haven’t been offered a service you should have been.
How do I make a complaint?
You can make a complaint by:
- raising your concern directly with your healthcare professional (they should tell you about their complaints procedure if you ask for it)
- using the NHS complaints process, which you can read on the NHS Choices website
- complaining directly to the General Medical Council (GMC) on the GMC website.
(See our legal pages on complaining about health and social care for more information.)
This information was published in December 2017 – to be revised in 2020. References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information see our page on permissions and licensing.