The following stories all recount the authors’ experiences of seeing their GP for the first time, to discuss a mental health issue. The stories range from almost 30 years ago, to current day…
“I CAN RULE OUT CANCER!”
WRITTEN BY LOCAL AUTHOR JON STEVENSON
Cancer! I hadn’t even contemplated that I might have cancer and trust me, I was worrying about everything in April 1990.
I had been suffering with a mixture of episodes of major panic, irrational thoughts & fears and carrying out repeated actions, since I could remember and particularly since I was 13 years old.
I was now 22 and had decided, after a huge amount of agonising and of course, dealing with major related anxiety, that I would call my doctor and for the first time, speak to an independent person – a professional – about my mental health. 27 years ago, I couldn’t bring myself to say the actual word mental – for fear that by verbalising it, I was somehow giving credence to my thoughts surrounding the imminent appearance of men in white coats. This was not aided by the media of the time and nor by filmmakers’ portrayal of anything to do with mental health.
So, sitting in the waiting room, my OCD ensuring that I re-read all of the wall posters, I did what was expected of me and ‘waited’. Out came the doctor – no fancy LCD displays or bleeps in 1990 – and I sat down in his room and explained just how long I had been feeling the way that I did. I remember 2 main parts of this meeting; my GP’s blank expression as I tried, unsuccessfully, to unburden myself and his initial surmise that I had been suffering too long for my symptoms to be cancer related. To this day, I am still unsure as to which of my symptoms may have sparked fear into Doc, had I been suffering for say a year!? My 10-minute time allocation finished with an almost complete lack of medical understanding and a casual referral to a self-help group which met to “meditate” at a local sports centre.
I attended the sports centre once, before returning to my own self-help journey. A decision which was right at the time…but oh how I wish that the professionals & understanding available now, were available then.
“IT HAD BECOME ALMOST OUT OF CONTROL”
WRITTEN BY LEANNE ARNOLD
Leanne is 25 years old and is studying BSc Hons Mental Health Nursing at the University of Suffolk. Leanne decided to get involved with Student life as she believes it is a great platform for creating mental health awareness.
It was December 2015 and as I picked the phone up to ring the doctors I felt ok, it wasn’t real yet was it? To be honest I think I kind of categorised my emotions as insignificant as I knew I had that “safety-net” of not having to actually turn up to the appointment.
I had just rung the doctors to book an appointment with my GP for feelings of sickness, dizziness, and disassociation; my personal manifestation of anxiety. I had been experiencing this for several weeks now and had decided that I really should address the situation. Honestly? It had become almost out of control. As I was making my way to the GP I still had this blasé attitude about the appointment, I guess I was still feeling in control. However, as I approached the entrance to the building I began to feel a slight prick of the already felt nausea. Waiting. Yes, waiting. On reflection, this was possibly one of the hardest parts, sitting with all these silly thoughts racing through your head. Gosh, if I had sat there much longer I probably would have convinced and diagnosed myself with a nasty disease. My palms had begun to perspire and the nausea increased, I was starting to feel quite nervous about the whole situation.
“Leanne Arnold”. Well, there it is, they have called my name now; I guess there is no going back.
Once seated in the doctors’ room, and after the initial introductions, the doctor asked me what he could help with. At first, I felt a bit daft, ‘oh maybe I just have a bug, I’m probably overreacting’. But once I had started to offer the doctor insights into the rationale for the appointment the conversation began to flow smoothly. The doctor asked me questions which allowed me to explain in-depth how I had been feeling, he asked me how things had been besides this, and, actually made me feel at ease. Heck, once I had started I couldn’t stop, all the different little issues and struggles rolling off my tongue as if I was speaking to myself in the mirror. It felt good, you know. It felt great to get off my chest all the worries, issues, struggles, and little things that had been niggling at me for so long.
Once I had finally stopped for breath and the doctor was able to interject he relayed what I had said as in confirmation, you know, to make sure he had understood everything correctly. Then we were able to discuss the different options available to me. The doctor explained that he thought I was suffering from anxiety, and for this I was able to do a few things. One was a referral to the practice’s mental health nurse, and the other was signposting to a fantastic self-help website. The doctor made the appointment to see the mental health nurse the following week and jotted down the website and wished me a good day. Walking home I already felt slightly reassured that I hadn’t imagined the way I had been feeling. The doctor had listened, evaluated, understood, and offered me a diagnosis. I had also left with a plan of action in place, the self-help website proved extremely useful, and is something which I still use to this day!
Once I had seen the mental health nurse, I left feeling even more satisfied and, you’ll be glad to hear, a lot less anxious! It took time, effort, and dedication, but working alongside the mental health nurse and investing time into the self-help techniques, I slowly began to feel less anxious and more confident in different situations.
I, one hundred percent, found that by accessing the GP I benefitted. The service I received was fantastic and I was understood and valued. I finally stopped feeling silly. I was unwell, and that was ok, and the doctor and mental health nurse helped me through it. Although that initial action may prove difficult, or if you’re like me, attending the appointment and opening up may be difficult. But once you allow yourself to reach out for advice and help you usually feel a lot more reassured, and usually are offered signposting to the right support for you. For me, I can truly say that the GP appointment was life changing. Once you tackle that first obstacle, the difficulty does subside. Oh and remember, it is ok to feel unwell, and you will start to feel better soon!
The following articles are written by Sixth Form students, who wanted to get involved with Student Life to try and help fellow students who are experiencing similar situations.
“ADDED TO THE WAITING LIST”
Getting help for the first time is one of the most important, but nerve-racking, things to do. So many emotions can be experienced as sometimes, it’s the first time you’ve ever shared what’s been on your mind to someone. But, tackling problems earlier on can help prevent issues from escalating at a later date. There are several ways to seek help if you are suffering from mental health issues, such as, charities like Suffolk Mind or 4YP, counsellors or several helplines. Another way is going to your local GP, which is perhaps the one that sounds the most daunting to some people. I myself sought help through a doctor when I was 16. On the build-up to the appointment I did feel very nervous but I tried to tell myself that it was an important step to take and would lead to me eventually getting better. I also felt a hint of embarrassment talking about how I felt, especially how there is still (wrongly) a stigma around mental health. This is quite a common feeling and I felt this way because of how there wasn’t a particular trigger to my anxiety/depression, it just manifested itself suddenly and because there wasn’t an actual reason, I felt like what I was feeling was silly/wrong. However, it definitely isn’t and there can be many reasons as to why anyone suffers from mental health problems, sometimes it’s biological.
The experience talking to the doctor itself wasn’t bad, he was in fact very understanding and I didn’t feel judged at all. He started with a kind of initial assessment, asking about my mood/thoughts, my sleeping patterns and asked to me to complete a questionnaire which was depression/anxiety based. However, the outcome wasn’t completely what I had hoped for. My doctor said the waiting list to see a psychiatrist/counsellor (on the NHS) would be around 6 months, even if he referred me straight away; as so many people were in the same boat as me (which is something to keep in mind if you are ever feeling alone with your mental health). That was simply too long, and he suggested to go to a private counsellor, which I did, but of course is not always an ideal situation for people with financial difficulties. After having counselling for a few months, I returned to the doctor in the hope of getting help from a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, a very similar response was given, so I ended up going to a private psychiatrist. Again, it was quite expensive but they did offer the help I really needed in order to progress.
If you are in fulltime education, I would definitely suggest speaking to a member of staff about the counselling that they offer, whether you are at school, college or university. This way you don’t have to wait (as long) for an NHS counsellor. Of course, you can also go to your doctor alongside having counselling to see whether they can refer you to a psychiatrist if that’s needed. Once in the appointment with your doctor, I would advise that you really make yourself heard. A lot of young people do suffer from mental health problems but if you are concerned you could be in danger, for example, really explain how you feel and try not to leave until you’ve made your point clear and the doctor has taken some kind of action, such as a referral, or perhaps medication if you are over 18.
“WORRIED I WASN’T GOING TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY”
After around a year of suffering with anxiety, I decided to visit my GP for some professional advice. Preparing for this visit was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done; the explaining of my problems to an outsider was particularly threatening. Someone who didn’t know anything about what was going on had to be brought up to speed in just minutes! I was feeling apprehensive about having to explain all of the symptoms I’m feeling with examples; I was worried that I wasn’t going to be taken seriously or be believed unless I backed up what I was explaining with situations where the feelings cropped up. Don’t get me wrong, I was well aware that I was taking positive steps towards a better mental state! The fact they’re a professional was what scared me.
I booked an appointment by phone – thankfully I was able to use a computerised system rather than having to speak to someone about it! After about two minutes, the computer voice confirmed the time of my appointment. I’d taken the biggest step, since I’d committed to the appointment it was all destined to get easier from now. Thankfully there wasn’t much of a build-up to the appointment, as it was scheduled two days in the future. I was mostly able to get on with life up until the appointment, I just had the reassuring comfort that things were soon going to (hopefully) get better.
After a reasonably pleasant couple of days, the moment finally came. When my dad drove me to the doctor’s surgery, the drive was silent. I feared speaking in case any conversation would put me off from the perfect interaction I had planned out in my head. From that point onward, it was a waiting game. I signed in on the tablet in the reception area, and sat anticipating the beep that would give me permission to enter the office. Minutes felt like hours. I shivered in my seat in waiting. Then it came. A beep, and a message on the screen pulled me out of my seat and into the office.
I was invited in by the doctor. My dad entered the room first, sitting in the corner of the room in a chair. I sat next to the desk: “How can I help you today?” the doctor asked. I had rehearsed my script, so I started to reel off my feelings to him at double speed. He nodded, listened, asked me the odd question to better pull together a story, and above all took notice of what I was telling him. He gave me a wonderful feeling; the feeling that he cared. My dad, despite the fact he was sat in the corner of the room listening to my words without a comment, really helped. The fact I had reassurance in the room with me in the form of a supportive family member put me slightly at ease. In addition, this doctor had been my family doctor for the best part of a decade, so I felt more comfortable with him than I would another doctor. After explaining my anxiety, how it had made me feel and how it affected me, my signs and symptoms, and every example of where and when it had struck me down in the last year or so, I felt a weight off my shoulders. I thought I would have broken down and cried, but I felt stronger. The doctor hadn’t yet provided a resolution! The fact that I was strong enough to tell a stranger that I was struggling made me feel powerful.
The doctor read through his notes, told me what conclusions he had drawn, and considered possible options with me. He suggested medication, but then decided against it because of the potential side effects and implications that come with it. He then referred me to Suffolk Wellbeing, an NHS organisation whose aim is to provide mental health support and guidance through seminars, webinars, group and 1-1 support. To this day, I haven’t followed through with the support; I didn’t feel like the programme that was offered (a Stress Control seminar) was really my cup of tea.
Don’t be worried about visiting the doctor about your mental health – it may seem scary as a concept, but they are genuinely willing and able to help you.
WRITTEN BY CAROLE THAIN
If we feel unwell, our GP is often the first place to think of going, whatever the problem and we would certainly recommend this.
Although tempting to self diagnose by searching online for answers and information, and sometimes this can be useful, more often than not this causes additional concerns. Perhaps even making us feel worse as we find different and alarming answers to our questions.
Making the decision to talk about physical or mental health problems can be really difficult, so that first conversation with your GP may not always be easy. It is though important to have the right advice when experiencing any symptoms that we have concerns or worries about, or if we are having feelings that are difficult to cope with which are impacting on our daily life.
Give some thought beforehand as to what you might say, and what words you will use to describe how you feel, and always be honest and open to make sure you get the right support and help at the onset.
At Suffolk Mind, we talk a lot about emotional needs and how important it is to meet them. Physical or mental needs that are unmet can make us unwell, so learning more about these needs and what we can do to meet them, can be a big step towards having a life that works. If you would like to know more about emotional needs, we have some interesting talks and activities at Quay Place in Ipswich, we also offer a counselling service.
For more info sign up for our monthly newsletter at quayplace.co.uk or pop in and pick up a leaflet.
For Suffolk Mind services visit suffolkmind.co.uk