Seeking help for a mental health problem can feel complicated, and you might sometimes feel like health care professionals aren’t listening to how you feel. This page covers the following ideas to help you feel more in control and empowered:
I feel, as a patient, I am the expert on me. So I know more than anyone else what is going on in my head, and I know what I need.
Do your own research
Although your doctor should give you the information you need to make informed decisions, you can also do your own research. This might help you find other options that you can suggest or ask about. For example, you can:
- Look for information that is trustworthy and reliable. One way to do this is to look for information that has the Information Standard quality mark, which looks like this:
- Speak to other people with similar experiences. You may want to do this through an online forum, like Elefriends or HealthTalk, or by finding a support group (Mind’s Infoline can help you work out what’s available in your area).
- Search online for blogs or videos from people who’ve had similar experiences. If you’d like some help doing this safely, see our pages on staying safe online.
It’s likely that a lot of what you do to stay well will be during your day-to-day life – not necessarily during health care appointments – so it’s worth thinking about what helps you stay well in general. You can have a look at our pages on improving and maintaining your wellbeing for more information and ideas.
In the past six years I have had counselling, a brief attempt at CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] and routine meetings with mental health doctors, but the thing I have found most helpful is open online forums full of people like me.
Your doctor should always explain any treatment or referral they suggest to you. If they don’t, or you don’t understand what they have offered, you can ask them to explain (see our page on understanding your doctor for more tips).
You might also want to ask:
- Why they have chosen one form of treatment over another.
- Whether they can offer you another form of treatment (they may not always be able to offer exactly what you’d like, but they should always explain their decision).
- What the side effects or disadvantages are of any treatment you’ve been offered, as well as the benefits.
You might want to prepare some questions before your appointment, but you can ask questions before, during and after treatment.
If you have been offered medication, it might be helpful to look at our page on what to know before taking medication for more ideas about questions you could ask.
Understand the guidelines and policies
Most aspects of health care are covered by clinical guidelines and policies, which outline:
- which treatments are most likely to work for you
- how your health care professionals should interact with you in general
- the quality of service they should provide
Examples of these documents include:
- NICE guidelines, which outline evidence-based treatment options for different conditions.
- Confidentiality and data protection policies, which outline your rights regarding any personal information your doctor holds about you, and what they must do to keep it private.
- Codes of practice for people who are members of professional bodies, for example doctors, nurses and accredited counsellors.
- Complaints procedures.
These should be accessible and easy to find using a web search, but you can also ask your doctor or health care provider to show them to you.
Find an advocate
An advocate is an independent person who is there to represent your opinion. You may find it helpful to have an advocate if you are finding it hard to let people know what you want.
An advocate can:
- come with you to appointments
- help you make self-referrals
- support you if you want to make a complaint or appeal any decisions
(For more information on advocacy services, including how to find an advocate, see our pages on advocacy.)
Get support from family, friends and carers
Trying to access health care can feel lonely, especially if you are facing barriers to getting support.
Friends, family and carers can help you feel reassured and supported by:
- discussing treatment options with you
- helping you to find information
- coming with you to appointments
- encouraging you and helping you to feel more confident about making decisions
You may find that just talking to someone outside of your health care team helps you work out what your questions and concerns are.
I find it helpful to hear all the options and have some time to talk them through with my family and CPN [community psychiatric nurse].
If your family and friends need ideas about how to support you, you could show them our page on helping someone else seek support.
This information was published in January 2015. We will revise it in 2018.