If you've been feeling a bit 'off' lately - stressed or anxious, sad or down, and it's been affecting your life, it's worth considering professional help. Seeing your GP can help start this process. For a quick rundown on some common mental health problems, and how to work out what might be going on, have a read here.
How do I make a GP appointment?
When making a GP appointment, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Ask someone you trust whether they have a doctor they’d recommend, or jump over to HealthDirect and use their great tool for tracking down a GP in your area. You can also ask the doctor's surgery if they can recommend someone with mental health experience.
- Check if they bulk bill. This means that Medicare will cover the cost of your appointment, so you won’t be out of pocket.
- A regular appointment lasts about 15 minutes, but you’ll need longer. Make this clear when making your appointment.
- Think about whether you might feel more comfortable speaking to a doctor of a particular gender. It’s very common to have a preference, so don’t stress about it. Just specify this when making the appointment.
You can make an appointment by calling the doctor’s office, or some places will let you book online (usually if you’re already a patient). Let the receptionist know which doctor you want to see (if you have someone specific in mind) and when is a good time for you. They’ll work out how that fits in with the doctor’s schedule and you’ll have booked an appointment. Pop it straight into your diary or calendar, so that you don’t forget, and then get on with your day. Consider if you would like a trusted person to come along to support you at the appointment.
On the day of the GP appointment
When the day of your appointment rolls around, you may feel a bit nervous about going through with it. That’s totally normal, but don’t second-guess yourself. Make sure you’ve got the essentials with you – your Medicare card, cash or a card to pay for the appointment, and your ID. (If you’re a new patient, you may need it.) Allow plenty of time to get to the medical centre or doctor’s rooms, and know where there is parking or which bus you need to catch.
What's going to happen at my appointment?
Once you arrive, let the receptionist know so that they can call your name when the doctor’s ready to see you. If you’re a new patient, they’ll also want to start a file for you, so they’ll need you to fill in paperwork with your personal details, an emergency contact, and details about any allergies or medical conditions you might have.
When your name is called and you walk into the GP’s office, take a deep breath and tell the GP that you’re there because you’d like some support for your mental wellbeing. People do this every day, so they won’t be surprised and will know exactly what to do next. They’ll probably ask you a tonne of questions as a way to get to know you and to decide exactly what kind of help will be right for you.
There’s a pretty standard survey you’ll run through with the doctor that will cover a range of topics like:
- physical health, lifestyle and family history – to get an idea of what things might be impacting your mental health
- recent and past psychological and emotional experiences that may be affecting your mood at the moment
- cultural background and spiritual beliefs
- whether you’ve had treatment in the past
- any substance use
- family and relationships
- work and financial situation
- risk assessment for risk of suicide, deliberate self-harm or hurting others.
Define a mental health care plan with your GP
Your GP should ask you whether you have any thoughts on what kind of treatment might work for you. If you don’t have any ideas, ask them what treatments might be available to you. Having a proper rundown of exactly what your options are will help you to wrap your brain around where to go next.
I have a mental health care plan... now what?
You’ll come away from your GP appointment with a mental health care plan or other GP referral. In a nutshell, it spells out what you and your doctor have agreed is your goal in seeking support, and the type of care that will meet your needs. It might also include a referral to a professional in your local area that your doctor recommends.
This piece of paper gets you up to twenty sessions covered by Medicare (until 30 June 2022), so the appointments will be cheaper than if you didn’t have the plan. You’ll generally still be out of pocket (unless you find a psychologist who bulk bills), but Medicare will cover some of it. You won’t get all twenty sessions in one block. After six sessions, you’ll head back to the GP to check on how you’re feeling about it all. They can then refer you to get more sessions if you need it.
How can I find a psychologist or therapist?
You now have a mental health care plan and are ready to find someone qualified to help you out. Your doctor may have given you the name of someone nearby, but if you want to do a bit of your own research you should head to BeyondBlue and try out their service finder tool. Even if the letter has someone’s name on it, you can still take that letter to the psychologist you prefer.
If you're a bit confused about all the different types of professionals you could see, check out our Professional Help topic page.
How do I prepare for my first session?
The psychologist is there to guide you through the process and to make sure you know what’s going down every step of the way. Try writing down any questions you have so you don’t forget them, and feel free to take notes while you’re there so you can review them later.
The most important thing to remember is that you might not like the first person you meet – and that’s totally fine! Pay attention to how you feel in their office and when you’re chatting to them. If the first person doesn’t work out, don’t lose hope – you wouldn’t stop cutting your hair if you had one bad experience with a hairdresser, so don’t give up on this either. You can change therapists as often as you need to, so feel free to keep moving until you find the person who’s right for you.
Once you’ve found a professional who ‘gets’ you, you can schedule regular appointments in advance. This will help you to manage your schedule so that you have time available to keep up the good work. Remember, there’s probably not a quick fix for what you’re going through, so you’ll probably have to commit to working on your mental wellbeing for a little while. Feeling your best is the most important thing, so stick with it - you will be rewarded! If the difficulties have been around for a while, it might take a while for change to happen - be patient.