If you are struggling, or feel that your mental health is affecting you, it is crucial that you seek the right support. Here, we take a look at the options available to you, where to begin, and general advice.
You may also consider using this helpful NHS article on accessing mental health services in the United Kingdom.
When should I seek help for a mental health condition?
It can be very difficult to know when the time is right to seek help for a mental health condition. But, as a general rule, if you are finding that your day-to-day life is being affected by your state of mind, then it is probably time that help is sought.
It can be difficult to monitor changes in your mental state, as changes tend to be very gradual. But there are usually typical signs that suggest it is time to seek help. Some of these signs may include any of the following, though this is far from an exhaustive list:
- Not enjoying your day-to-day life
- Persistent bouts of low mood
- Panic attacks
- Feelings of anxiety in a range of situations
- Not enjoying hobbies like you once did
- Not sleeping enough or sleeping more than usual
- Bigger or smaller appetite than usual
- Suffering from a lack of motivation
- Obsessive behaviour
- Symptoms of psychosis – such as delusions, paranoia, hallucinations
- Mood swings
- Substance abuse
When we are struggling with our mental health, it is very easy to think that things will get better on their own. Fortunately, in many cases this is true. But sometimes we need to get help.
We can’t always handle everything on our own. Once a person takes that first step, they will be on their way to recovery.
Private Sector or Public Sector?
The first choice to make is regarding which sector you want to use – public or private. The public sector refers to the NHS, whilst the private sector involves private treatment that a person pays for.
For most people, there won’t be a choice. Fortunately, the NHS offers free treatment – which is a life-saver for so many people. The NHS provides free treatment, including talking therapy and when necessary, medication (though people in England do need to pay for their prescriptions).
Some people will choose the private sector. This is an expensive choice, though it means that treatment can be accessed faster, with the patient also having more choice. For those that can afford the private sector, it can have excellent effects.
We have an article that looks at this choice in further detail. In this article, we will be focusing on the treatment provided by the NHS in the public sector, as this will be relevant to most people. We do have generic information however for those seeking help either through the NHS or the private sector.
Where to Begin?
The natural place to start is with a GP appointment. A GP is your personal doctor – you need to be registered to a GP practice in order to book an appointment with them.
A GP is someone that can act as a “conduit” of sorts – as they will connect you to the relevant service to carry out your treatment. GP’s are experienced health professionals that have a strong knowledge of a wide array of conditions – including mental health.
Booking an appointment can usually be done online, or by calling the surgery. There shouldn’t be any need for you to tell the receptionist about the reason behind your appointment, though in peak times, this may be a requirement. Waiting times can vary hugely between surgeries.
Your GP will ask you a range of questions – and based on your answers, will decide what is the best course of action. Questions will be based around the symptoms that you are suffering from, when they started, how they impact your life, if there have been any potential triggers, and anything else that the Doctor believes is relevant.
Sometimes, they may propose something called “watchful waiting” – which is where a person will wait a length of time, usually 2 or 3 weeks, before speaking to the GP again, in case the symptoms are rather mild, and just go away without any treatment required.
In most cases, a GP will refer you to a local service that offers a low-intensity form of therapy. This is especially relevant for common conditions such as Depression and Anxiety. This local service would typically then provide the patient with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or a different form of therapy.
For more severe cases of depression or anxiety, complex conditions like Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia, or when someone has been through a state of psychosis, a GP will normally refer the patient to the local Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) – which is a group of mental health professionals who help to treat complex mental health conditions. This is typically done in a high-intensity way.
GP’s can prescribe medication, though this is rarely done after one appointment. In cases where symptoms are moderate to severe, medication can be helpful. GP’s can prescribe common medicines like antidepressants.
For those with more complex conditions that require antipsychotics or mood stabilisers, a mental health professional at the CMHT will need to prescribe the medicine.
The above content is discussed in further detail in the below articles
Visiting your GP for the First Time: What to Know and Typical Outcomes [CONSTRUCTION]
What Questions will the GP ask you at your first mental health appointment? [CONSTRUCTION]
What Happens Then?
Normally, you will then wait for the relevant service to contact you – which is normally done by phone call. The service will contact you to book an initial appointment, which is normally a 30 minute conversation over the phone. For more pressing or urgent cases, this will be face-to-face.
With less complex conditions, waiting times can be a few weeks unfortunately. The NHS is heavily stretched, and mental health funding is minimal compared to demand. As a result, waiting is normal for less complex conditions.
In more urgent cases, patients can be seen within 24 hours if necessary. As we mentioned earlier with the physical health hospital analogy, it is the same for mental health – those that need care the most urgently are prioritised.
Eventually, an appointment will take place. From there, treatment will begin. This is normally through a form of talking therapy, though it is dependent on the condition and symptoms a person has, the treatment offered by the service, and other factors.
As well as the above, the GP will normally remain in touch with you. A meeting once every two weeks may happen to begin with. Eventually, the appointments will become monthly or even less frequent – just whatever is in-keeping with your symptoms.
Many patients are worried about who can access the information that they provide to healthcare professionals. In the vast majority of cases, only healthcare professionals that are directly involved in your care will be able to access the notes.
Healthcare professionals are bound by strict confidentiality regulations. In the event that the professional or a Doctor thinks that it may be helpful to tell someone e.g. parent, teacher or tutor, they will ask your permission to do so.
However, it is important to mention that in the event where a healthcare professional believes that their patient is at serious risk of harming themselves or others, they are legally bound to contact the relevant authority, such as the Police if necessary – but this only in rare occasions, and with the patient’s interests at heart.
But in the vast majority of cases, confidentiality is strict. You can read more about confidentiality at our dedicated article here.
The Mental Health Act and Can I ever be given treatment that I don’t want?
Another common worry with those seeking mental health treatment is the fear of being detained under the Mental Health Act – better known as being “sectioned”.
However, this is a rare occurrence. In the instance when someone is sectioned, it is only ever done when the person involved is seen to be in danger of harming themselves or others.
Only when someone has been detained under the Mental Health Act can a person receive treatment that they haven’t explicitly consented to. As mentioned, this will only ever be done when it is absolutely necessary.
Otherwise, you will always have a voice in your treatment, and can never be treated against your wishes. If you are offered medication, you don’t have to take it, and if therapy isn’t for you, then you can leave at any point.
One final area to mention concerns “mental capacity”. This is a legal term which revolves around whether or not a person has the ability to make sensible decisions, whilst knowing the consequences of their actions.
If a person is deemed to lack mental capacity, this can be grounds for treatment to be carried out without their consent – though this is a rare occurrence, and is done in the best interest of the patient.
Typical causes of a lack of mental capacity include recreational drugs, unconsciousness or a learning disability. These will often be temporary situations, though it can also be permanent – such as in the case of dementia or a traumatic brain injury.
Looking after yourself is very important when seeking treatment for a mental health condition. After all, it can be a long road to recovery, and you won’t get better overnight.
Small things, like eating healthily, getting regular exercise and regularly talking/communicating with others can be a huge help to anyone who is struggling with their mental health.
In order for treatment to be most effective – it is very important for the patient to engage in their treatment fully. This means attending all appointments, getting exercise, eating healthily, and generally doing what they can to get better.
It is important to remember that help is available. It can seem very daunting at first when you are in a very low mental state. But the sooner treatment begins, the sooner a recovery can be made.
We are very fortunate to live in a country where mental health services are essentially free. We can make the most of this privilege by engaging fully in the treatment process.
Hopefully, by following the steps in this article, you will find that you are able to start the road to recovery, and that a healthier mental state can be achieved.
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If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. With the right support and treatment, you can make a recovery. For information on helplines, or if you are in a state of crisis, please visit our crisis page by clicking on the relevant link for your geographical location (United Kingdom), (United States), (International). You can also see how to get mental health treatment and the process involved by clicking this link.