Mental health and GPs: my experience of accessing mental health treatment on the NHS

Mental health is starting to make it into the mainstream. With campaigns like Time to Change encouraging people to start opening up, MPs discussing mental health in the House of Commons and TV shows such as My Mad Fat Diary, slowly we are beginning to open up as a country about the issues we face.

One of the main messages is to go to your GP. If you feel that you are struggling with your emotions or even with physical symptoms that can come from mental illnesses, you can see your GP if you have any worries about your mental health. I agree with this wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, for many people with a mental illness, one appointment might not be enough.

The most important advice that I can give is that you can ask for help as many times as you feel is necessary. You are not wasting the doctor's time or making something out of nothing. You have a right to seek help until you feel happy with the response you receive.

When I first struggled with depression to the point that it was interfering with my everyday life I saw three different doctors before I was referred on for cognitive behavioural therapy. When I started to suffer from suicidal thoughts I had to speak to my doctor on four occasions and speak to three more professionals before I got to see a psychiatrist. I may be unlucky and I certainly don't want to put anyone off going to get help.

With this in mind, here are my tips:

1. Make a list of symptoms, timings and things your symptoms are stopping you from doing to take with you. Websites like DocReady can help.

2. You can take someone into your appointment with you. Let them know if there is anything you think you will struggle to talk about so they can make sure it is mentioned. You can also ask them to make notes on what the doctor says so you don't miss anything.

3. If you don't want to tell friends and family but still want someone to go with you, search for local advocates in your area. Charities such as Mind can provide people to support you in accessing treatment.

4. If you are not happy with what your doctor says you can ask for a second opinion. You are entitled to change surgeries if necessary.

5. If you feel like you have too much to say in 10 minutes you can ask to book a double appointment.

6. You have a right to ask about all the treatment options available and if there are any other services on the NHS or in the local community to which you can be referred for extra support.

7. There are lots of acronyms involved in mental health. If your doctor says something you don't understand feel free to ask him or her to explain.