I’ve had quite a few conversations lately, both on and offline, with people who thought they might have depression, bipolar or some other disorder, but where worried about what would happen if they brought it up with their doctor. I’ve told most of the people I’ve spoken to about my experience the first time I raised my mental health worries with my GP, in the hopes that it would reassure them, and then I thought it might be worth writing about it on here for reference.
*Note: My experience has been as an NHS patient in the UK. I’m aware that a lot of people who read this site are from elsewhere and that medical systems vary. Hopefully there isn’t so great a difference in the attitudes of doctors.
I’d known that there was something not quite right for at least ten years before I first spoke to a GP about my mental health. I’d had at least one major depressive episode already, but at the time I’d just moved to a new town and was finding it impossible to get registered with a doctor anywhere. I tried dropping in at the Samaritans once instead, but I thought that the girl looked at me like I was crazy, and that put me off ever going again.
I’d also mentioned my concerns to various people I knew, but it’d never gone down very well, so I’d quickly dropped the subject. There was the housemate who told me that I wasn’t depressed, I just didn’t like my life. The, now ex, boyfriend who told me that depression as an illness didn’t exist. And my parents, who found my leaflet for the Samaritans and told me that I wasn’t suicidal, and that that was the end of the discussion. I wonder how many people that approach has ever kept from killing themselves before…
So basically, over the course of the previous ten years asking for help with what I thought was my depression, had built itself up to be this unimaginably ‘Big Thing’. And I thought that the conversation with my doctor was going to be very scary.
One in four people suffers from a mental health issue at some point. Which means that GPs discuss mental health concerns with their patients all the time. So, while he was very nice about it, my doctor treated my visit like the routine query that it was.
I told him that some bad things had happened in my life, and that I thought that might be why some of my friends had said that I was kind of difficult to get to know, or that I wasn’t very open or whatever. I explained also that I’d been seeing a guy for a couple of months, and that since we’d been intimate I’d been suffering nightmares about having been attacked.
He then gave me a questionnaire to fill in that asked questions about how I was feeling, and how I thought that my feelings were impacting on my relationships, work and leisure activities.
To be honest a five year old filling out the form could figure out what the right answers are if you’re trying to wind up with a diagnosis of severe depression. But I answered honestly to show that at the time my concern was with the effect on friendships and leisure activities.
The doctor added up my scores from my questionnaire and told me that it did indicate that I had depression. Based on what he had told me he thought it also sounded like I had PTSD.
The GP explained that the best treatment for both depression and PTSD was therapy, but that therapy would only work if I felt that I was able to participate. He said that the choice was up to me, but that he felt that it would be a good idea for me to start a course of medication to lift my mood, and return for a referral to a therapist in a months time.
The doctor seemed prepared to have to convince me that medication was required. He said that a lot of people did not like the idea of anti depressants and refused to have them. I thought his reasoning made sense, so I accepted them.
The GP gave me a prescription for paroxetine, which he said was the best anti-depressant for patients with PTSD, and printed me off some information about PTSD and depression. He advised me to share this information with people as I was most likely to get better if I had a support network I could talk to about my problem.
Then I went home. Feeling relieved that he’d taken me seriously and wondering how I’d managed to build something so straight forward into such a big deal.
Since then I’ve spoken to dozens of other doctors, nurses and other health professionals about my illness. I’ve only encountered one who was unsympathetic. It turned out that he had a reputation for being difficult.
I’m hoping that in telling you this someone may be encouraged to be a little less apprehensive about seeking treatment. In the NHS at least the experience I had is supposed to be pretty much standard. If yours is different, don’t be afraid to complain, or to ask for an appointment with a different doctor to get a second opinion.
It would be fantastic if anyone has any stories to share of how this works in other places.