Trigger Warning: This article discusses mental health throughout, including depression, anxiety, self-harm and sexual assault.
You overcame the fear and rang up, navigated the nosey receptionist (if it’s anything like my practice, anyway) and you have your first mental health appointment set up and ready. So, what now? How is it going to go? Every person is different, and every appointment is different, so we’ve pulled together some stories from our writers of their first appointments, and any advice they have for you to take into yours.
My first mental health appointment was with a doctor at a university campus practice. He was quite familiar with soon-to-be graduates coming because they’d realised they needed help. He had me fill out the standard questionnaire and self-refer to the counselling service. The doctor at home was less helpful and sent me away with a script for a drug I had to ask the pharmacist about (citalopram, an antidepressant).
It was a standard GP appointment. Like being asked about my eczema or an ear infection. He read the questionnaire I’d seen online, typing answers into his outdated PC, and I answered honestly. “Have you hurt yourself?” Yes. “Have you considered taking your own life?” Yes. “Do you plan to take your own life?” No. He sent me away with a prescription for Citalopram, instructions to return in a month, and an appointment with a counsellor.
Following a sexual assault, I wrote a letter to my Mum explaining what had happened and was whisked off to see my doctor. By this time, the floodgates had opened and I had somewhat of a breakdown in my GP’s office. Unfortunately this particular doctor did not deal with the situation very well, believing that a stay in our local mental health clinic was what I required. This mental health clinic only had mixed wards, which was something I simply wouldn’t have been able to deal with at the time. The doctor was however fairly insistent, so I ended up having a home review carried out by one of the assessors who worked there. It was only due to the fact that my Mum had medical training and promised to keep me under surveillance 24/7 that I was allowed to remain at home and I was set up with a counsellor.
My heart raced every time someone glanced at me on the walk to the surgery, my palms were sweaty by the time I arrived, and as I sat in the waiting room I almost convinced myself to leave. My doctor was wonderful. She empathised, she gave me chocolate, she told me about her own experiences, and suggested that I find a voluntary position involved in something I loved to reintegrate myself into society. We did an evaluation test and found my anxiety levels were close to cataclysmic. She asked if I’d prefer medication or therapy, and that she actually gave me a choice was such a relief. She arranged an appointment with a therapist, told me to come back if I changed my mind, and gave me absolute faith in myself and the help I would receive.
As soon as I sat down in the doctor’s chair I burst into tears and had a mini meltdown – I can’t even remember what I said. It was just after my Grandfather had died from a long drawn out illness, and I had been working in a very negative and nasty environment, not to mention I was at the end of my second year at university so I was getting anxious about third year. She said I was suffering from anxiety, I was bereaved and possibly a little bit depressed. She prescribed me beta blockers to stop the beating in my chest, and referred me to the bereavement councillor – a weight lifted off me.
I didn’t intend to talk about mental health; on the advice of my sister to get checked for anaemia (it runs in the family), I found myself talking to a fantastic GP. He gladly agreed to check for anaemia, but admitted to me I wasn’t showing any obvious signs. He simply took a second to ask if I felt ever felt low sometimes, and without warning I had burst into tears. On the surface even to myself everything was fine, but it just took a gentle nudge to realise my recent move had been a bigger step than I had expected and I was a feeling a little lonely. Nothing drastic was suggested, I just needed to realise how I was feeling deep down was the cause of my exhaustion. I dramatically improved and it was just thanks to one conversation with my GP.
I was referred to CAHMS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) after my mother made me a doctor’s appointment to discuss the anger issues I’d been having. I was asked to fill in a mental health questionnaire; Have you ever attempted to harm yourself? Do you feel as though things would be better if you were not around? Have you ever tried to act on these thoughts? The doctor took one look at my answers and made me an appointment for the next week.
Tips for Your First (or Any) Appointment:
See if you can make a double appointment. If not, don’t be afraid to take your time. You know all those times you’ve been sat in the waiting room for half an hour because the doctor was running behind? Someone else had complex needs, and now it’s your turn. Discuss your concerns before you leave.
The best advice I can offer to anyone receiving counselling is to make sure you’re working with someone you feel comfortable with.
Talk freely, openly, and most of all, honestly.
Take someone supportive with you. They can ask questions/ listen as well. It might be helpful for them to make notes as you might struggle to take everything in.
Write a list of everything to want to say/ask over a few days before you go. Maybe get some trusted friends/family to read over and see if they have anything to add.
Go with an open mind with regard to treatment/medication. Remember that every patient is different, and that what did/didn’t work for your friend’s Auntie Joanne will have different results for you.
Even if you’ve been on medication or tried a particular method of therapy before, remember that advances are being made all the time and the therapist might be completely different, so be willing to try.
Ask for any contact numbers, such as Crisis/Out of Hours.
It’s fine to cry. If you feel like your doctor might not have tissues, take your own!
Reward yourself for doing something really hard. Be proud of making the first step.