When looking for mental health support, a good place to start is by making an appointment to see a family doctor or trusted General Practitioner (GP). Your GP can act as a central point of contact, assess your wellbeing, help you explore treatment options, and refer you to support services and resources.
Finding a GP
If you don’t already have a regular GP, it can be a bit overwhelming to know where to begin.
A good place to start is to check out websites like Health Direct Service Finder, which can help you locate GPs in your area. Most of these websites will also provide information about the doctors, including their areas of interest and expertise. You might want to look for a doctor who specifically mentions experience with mental health - but remember that any doctor can write referrals and help you access services.
If possible, you might also your family and friends for recommendations. It’s important that whoever you see is non-judgemental and supportive; friends or family members might be able to recommend doctors or clinics they've had good experiences with.
When choosing a GP, it's also important to consider the cost. Some clinics bulk bill, meaning that the cost of the appointment is covered by Medicare. Young people, especially students, are often eligible to be bulk billed and if you have a student card, you should always bring it to your appointment.
To find out more about the costs of seeing a specific doctor, check the practice website, or call - they are always happy to provide more information.
Remember to book a long or double appointment; this way the doctor can write any needed referrals or paperwork, and you won’t feel rushed.
What to expect at your appointment
The doctor will take a short history, and may ask you to complete some questionnaires. This might involve questions about your mental and physical health, including your routine - such as your sleeping, eating, socialising and exercise habits - your thoughts and feelings, any physical symptoms, and how long this has been going on for you.
The GP may also ask you to do some physical tests - such as a blood test - to rule out any underlying physical health issues that may be contributing to your symptoms.
The doctor will then help guide you through different options available to you. For example, they may:
- write you a Mental Health Treatment Plan, which will allow you to access government subsidies to see a mental health professional.
- suggest a number of different types of mental health professionals, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or even a dietician or social worker, depending on your needs and situation.
- prescribe medication.
- help by communicating with your educational institution or your employer, if you are struggling in school or work.
Remember, this should be a collaborative experience! You are allowed to ask questions and voice any concerns you might have.
Preparing for your appointment
It can be hard to talk about mental health with your doctor, so going in with a game plan will always help. For example, you might want to prepare a list of talking points and bring it into the appointment with you.
So you might want to write down:
- The symptoms you’ve been experiencing (e.g., sadness, sleep or appetite problems, shakiness, tiredness etc.)
- Any events that have happened recently (e.g. a loss, work/school/university stress or relationship issues)
- The concerns, worries and thoughts that you’ve been having (e.g. “I’m scared something is wrong with me”, “I feel like I can’t cope” etc.)
- How your life has been affected by these symptoms (i.e. impact on relationships, school, work, or physical health)
- How long things have been like this
- Any family history or prior experiences of mental health issues.
Depending on COVID-19 restrictions, you might be able to take a support person into the appointment with you, to help you feel more at ease. This might be something you enquire about when you book the appointment.
After your appointment
Conversations about mental health and wellbeing can be emotional and stressful. It’s a good idea to plan something nice to do after your appointment or organise to check in and de-brief with a loved one.
Finally; while GPs are expert health professionals and usually very experienced in supporting people with their mental health - everyone is different. Sometimes a particular GP just isn’t a good fit.
If a GP makes you feel dismissed, judged, or isn’t able to provide you with support options you are happy with, try not to let it make you feel like you have to go it alone. There are plenty of excellent educated GPs out there - it's just a matter of finding the right one. If possible, de-brief with someone you feel safe with, or reach out to one of the online support services outlined in our toolkit!