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

Posted on 06/02/2014

What decisions can I make?

Making decisions about your treatment should be a conversation, involving both you and your health care professionals. This is sometimes called shared decision making. You should expect to have a say in:

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

Who treats you

Having a good relationship with your GP can be a really important way of getting the right support. If you don’t feel you have a good relationship with your current GP, you can:

  • Ask to see a different doctor. Your GP surgery doesn’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 specialist.
  • Self-refer to another service (in some cases). If you self-refer to a psychological wellbeing service or a community mental health team (CMHT), they will normally carry out another initial assessment to see if they can support you.
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.

What treatment you receive

There are lots of different treatments that can help you manage your mental health. The most common are:

Your doctor is likely to follow the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, which set out recommended treatments for different kinds of mental health problems. How effective any treatment is differs from person to person, and you might have to try different things before you find out what works for you.

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.

Where you receive treatment

You can be involved in making sure your treatment is accessible to you.

This could include:

  • asking for home visits
  • choosing a service close to where you live
  • deciding not to accept treatment in a service which is too far away

There may be some limits, such as if a service only exists in certain areas, or if you live somewhere rural. But your health care team should try to offer you a choice whenever they can, and work with you to find a suitable location for your treatment.

When you receive treatment

Talking treatments

Whatever your treatment is, you should receive it within a reasonable amount of time. However, there can sometimes be long waiting times to access talking treatments through the NHS.

  • You can ask your doctor for an estimate of how long the waiting lists are – you might decide on a particular treatment because it is available more quickly.
  • If you are worried that waiting for treatment is going to have a serious impact on your wellbeing, you can ask your doctor what extra support they can offer.

If you are finding it very difficult to access the service you want on the NHS, you could think about exploring options through the private sector.


  • You can discuss with your doctor when you will start medication and how long you will take it for.
  • Your doctor should offer you regular appointments to review your medication, but you can ask for a medication review at any time.
  • If you need to see a specialist before taking medication, you can ask your doctor for other support while you are waiting.

(See our pages on medication for more information on what to know before you start taking medication, specific drugs and your right to refuse medication.)  

Summary Care Records  

  • Summary Care Records are an electronic record of key information about your health which can be accessed by healthcare professionals (with your permission) in any setting.
  • As a minimum this is about medication, allergies and adverse reactions – but you can now request for additional information to be added.
  • You could ask your GP to add information about your medical history (past and present) as well as things such as your mental health care plan or your crisis care plan.
  • This means that in a crisis situation, other healthcare professionals can access key information about you to help with the treatment they provide you.

 For more information see the NHS Choices page on Summary Care Records.

This information was published in January 2015. We will revise it in 2018.

Mental Health A-Z

Information and advice on a huge range of mental health topics

> Read our A-Z


Helping you to better understand and support people with mental health problems

> Find out more

Special offers

Check out our promotional offers on print and digital booklets, for a limited time only

> Visit our shop today