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Here at ReachOut, we often encourage you to chat with your GP about getting some *profesh* help if you’re struggling with your mental health. But that might leave you asking, ‘What does that mean, and how do I do it?’ Here, we’ll help you figure out if speaking to your GP about a mental health care plan is the right move for you, and what to expect once you have one.

How do I know if I should ask for help?

Maybe you’ve been feeling a bit ‘off’ lately – stressed or anxious, or even a bit sad. It’s worth taking a look at any change in your mood that affects your day-to-day life. For a quick rundown on some common mental health problems, and how to work out what might be going on, have a read here.

Okay, I think I need to see a GP

That’s often a hard decision to make, so GOOD ON YOU for being proactive! Here’s a handy list of things to keep in mind when booking an appointment:

  • 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.
  • Check if they bulk bill. This means that Medicare will cover the cost of your appointment, so you won’t be out of pocket and that’s a big WIN.
  • 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 male doctor or a female one. It’s very common to have a preference, so don’t stress about it. Just specify this when making the appointment.
  • Pick a day when you don’t have too much else on. That way, you won’t feel stressed or overwhelmed trying to fit it into your schedule.

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). Picking up the phone to call a stranger can be terrifying – we totally get that – but it’ll be the quickest conversation you’ve ever had! 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 BOOM, 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. Proud of you :)

I've made an appointment, but now I have to keep it!

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 grab. Most importantly, remember that taking care of yourself is the most important thing and that it’s okay to ask for help. If you’re feeling a bit stressed out by the process, try one of our mindfulness meditations to keep you calm and centred.

What's going to happen?

Once you arrive, it’s important to let the receptionist know you’re in the building 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 deets 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
  • work and financial situation – these can be major causes of stress, so they’re worth covering in detail.

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.

You’re now halfway to getting yourself some professional support for your mental health – well done! Now check out Part 2: Using your mental health care plan.

What can I do now?