Talking to your GP about mental health is the first step to taking back control. Our bodies are excellent at telling us when something isn't quite right, and if you feel like it's time to have a chat with someone, trust yourself. I know the idea of it can feel daunting, but honestly, it's actually such a straightforward process. However, a lot of people are unsure of what happens when you visit your GP about anxiety. Allow me walk you through it.
Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem every year, according to mental health charity Mind. Meanwhile, a 2016 University of Cambridge report revealed that more than eight million people in the UK specifically suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder, with women under 35 being affected most often. As the stats show, anxiety is super common, so remind yourself you are definitely not alone. When you make your GP appointment, keep in mind that though you may feel like it is just you who feels like this, the figures are there to show that anxiety is a really prevalent issue, and most importantly, seeing your doctor is the best step forward.
Anxiety is defined as a normal response to stress and is also called the "flight or fight" response, which involves the production of adrenaline to give the body a way of coping with whatever catastrophe it sees as imminent. According to Anxiety UK, "the problems arise when this response is out of proportion to the actual danger of the situation, or indeed is generated when there is no danger present." There are physical symptoms and psychological ones, which is why anxiety can feel overwhelming if left unchecked.
Psychotherapist David Field, who works with the Hanover Medical Practice in Dublin, tells me that apprehension before an appointment is totally normal because "often people have struggled on their own for a long time before seeking help from a professional." But remember, you don't need to prepare anything in advance, you're just there to have a chat about what's going on. Have a look at this overview of anxiety from the NHS if you are feeling nervous because sometimes it can help you to have a concise list ready in your head to talk about.
Remember, check-ups like this are essential in caring for ourselves. In the same way that your doc will ask you to outline how you feel if you see them about a migraine or the flu, they will do the very same for your mental health. Remember, they are there to help you, and giving them as much information as you can lets them do that. This isn't a test. Your feelings are valid so don't minimise them.
Field tells me that an appointment generally involves "a GP discussing the levels of anxiety with you, assessing the impact it is having on your day-to-day life, and in discussion with you, planning what the next step should be." Sometimes you can be asked to fill out a brief chart that will give your GP an understanding of the ways and regularity your anxiety crops up.
Setting an aim for the appointment can be a helpful way of keeping things on track and ensuring you don't let your anxious feelings overtake what you came to the doctor for. If your goal is to say out loud you have anxiety and you would like to learn how to cope better, be as direct as you can and say this. Doctors are great, but they're not mind readers, so remind yourself you are in a safe space and can be honest.
There are many different types of mental health professionals, all catering to specific issues in specific ways. Lots of people might feel like seeing a specialist is the best port of call to treating anxiety, but by talking to your GP, they will be able to assess the situation and direct you towards other treatments if necessary.
Once you've spoken about your symptoms, they will be able to make a diagnosis, and from there look at how best to treat problems. Anxiety can be cared for in lots of different ways, depending on the type and symptoms, and your doctor will know what's best.
Due to the way anxiety can manifest both physically and psychologically, your GP may recommend a course of medication, talking therapies, lifestyle changes, or a combination of all three. Field adds that "there is no one size fits all approach to treating anxiety but working with professionals will help you to figure out what works for you."
Knowing what to expect and breaking down our worries is an important step in tackling anxiety, and it's the very same when it comes to talking to your GP. They have years of experience with patients just like you and will know what direction to steer you in to best look after yourself. Often, the idea of talking about mental health is what preoccupies us, more than the conversation itself, so knowing what your doctor's appointment will consist of is a great way to getting back on track.