Doctor doctor

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Having been snuffling around in the pigsty of poor mental health for several years now, I’m learning to be more demanding when it comes to getting help.

A recent trip to the doctor’s more resembled a perilous voyage into Mordor than an innocent check up – I was battle-ready and prepared not to leave with just a pill prescription, but rather a more concrete and sustainable plan to wobble my way back to better mental health. Fight the power.

Except that ten minutes after shaking the doctor’s hand, I had a psychotherapy referral underway, a blood test booked and a sincere request from my GP to please come back if I felt in any way overwhelmed over the next few days. It all went so well I didn’t really know what to do with myself.

It’s not my intention to badmouth the NHS, but my experience of GPs is that they’re perpetually reluctant to make referrals to see a specialist unless you’re so far gone that your brain’s seeping out your ears like a soft, steaming mass of spaghetti. ‘Come back in six weeks’ and ‘I’m certain we can sort this out here’ are all too familiar platitudes to me. Not to mention that bloody depression questionnaire they make you fill out. Sometimes, I’ve felt like doctors are clueless when it comes to mental health.

Which is why my recent experience was so refreshing, and also why it’s so great that the campaign against mental illness stigma, Time to Change, has implemented a new project to make GPs more mental health friendly. Since October last year project workers have been leading one-to-one sessions with frontline health staff, to help them better understand mental health service users’ experiences. The results have been positive with 64% of GPs saying they were better equipped to make adjustments so that people with mental health difficulties could access their practice, as opposed to just 41% before the project began.

In times of ill health your doctor is the lifeboat you cling to and the way they react to those that reach out for help with depression and anxiety, can be life changing. So if this project has made even a shred of progress in doctors surgeries nationwide, for some people that could literally mean the difference between life and death.

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