If you think that you might be depressed, visiting your GP may be an important first step.
You can access help and support on the NHS by visiting your GP.
You may be worried about visiting your GP. People tell us they find it hard to talk about how they feel. We hope the information on this page will help.
On this page you can get an idea of how your GP can help you, how to get the most out of your appointment, what to do after your appointment and what happens if your GP isn’t helpful.
What can my GP do to help me?
Your doctor will start by discussing your symptoms to make sure that they are not caused by any other illness. They can do some tests to rule out any physical condition.
Once depression is established, the action the doctor takes will depend on the severity of your depression and resources available in your area. Your experience of depression, low mood or anxiety will be unique to you, so it makes sense if you work with your doctor to find out what sort of care and treatment is going to be most helpful.
Here are some things your doctor can do:
Suggest self-help options
It is becoming more common for doctors to also suggest self-help workbooks or computerised self-help. These are effective ways of treating depression. If you think it will help you then ask your doctor about this option.
Refer you for talking therapy
Your doctor can also offer you counselling or other forms of psychological therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Availability can depend on your area and you may have to go on a waiting list for this.
Or, depending on your area, your doctor can also refer you to new services like the Living Life to the Full Interactive which offers Cognitive Behavioural Therapy over the phone.
Your doctor is likely to suggest that you start on antidepressants, particularly if you have moderate or severe depression. If you do start taking medication, you may be asked to go back and see your GP after about a week, just to check that you aren’t having any unpleasant side-effects and that the dosage is right.
Refer you to a psychiatrist or other mental health services
If you are severely depressed or if you are not responding to medication your doctor can refer you onto a psychiatrist or to other community mental health services.
Write a fit note
If you are too ill to go to work, your doctor can write a statement of fitness for work, known as a ‘fit note’, which will either say that you are too unwell to work or study for a specified time or that you may be fit for work with extra support from your employer. Find out more about fit notes on the Direct Gov website.
Getting the most from your appointment
Ask if there is a doctor at your surgery who has an interest in depression
When you are making an appointment, it might be worth asking if there is a doctor there who has an interest or specific expertise in depression. While this isn’t essential, their knowledge and understanding might be useful.
Write down how you are feeling
It can be really hard to talk about how you are feeling to your doctor, especially if you haven’t really done it before. And it can be hard to remember the details of times when you felt worse if you are now feeling a bit better. Writing it down will help you remember what to say.
You can either show it to your doctor if you prefer, or use it as prompts when you are describing your symptoms. Things you should include are:
- How your mood changes over the day
- Whether you feel worse at a certain time of day, eg: in the mornings
- How long you have been feeling this way
- Any questions that you want to ask your doctor
Show your doctor your self-test results
You could also take our self-test and print out your results.
Ask a friend or relative to come with you
If you’re feeling nervous about going to your appointment, or don’t feel confident that you can talk about it, you might want to take a friend or relative along with you as support. They can help you explain how your depression is affecting you.
Get time to talk about the important things
Each GP appointment only lasts for around 10 minutes. Talk about the most important concerns and symptoms first, so that your doctor has time to address these as a priority.
If you think you need longer, you can ask for a longer appointment. You will have to do this when you make the appointment, not on the day. You may be asked to explain why this is necessary so be prepared.
Dont be embarrassed
On average, your doctor will see at least one person with depression, low mood or anxiety each day so they are used to hearing about it.
Don’t bottle things up!
It will really help you and your doctor if you are open and honest about how you are feeling. It’s not easy, but if you are feeling distressed, it will help them to understand how you are feeling if you can tell them. This is where writing things down first can help.
Remember you’re there to talk about YOU!
It’s important to make sure that the discussion with your doctor covers all the important points and concerns you have, and focuses on how YOU are feeling. You’ve taken the courage to go along, so try not to brush things off, or down-play things once you are there.
Before you leave the room
Check with your doctor what the next steps are, what you should do and when you should go back and see them again. Make sure you understand any directions for taking medication. If you have trouble remembering things, write it down.
After your appointment
Keep follow-up appointments
Your doctor will want to make sure that the treatment is working so make sure you go back and see them even if you’re feeling better.
Let your doctor know if you feel worse
Keep your doctor informed if you start feeling worse or if you don’t think the treatment is working so that you can find something that is better suited to you.
Ask for a review of medication
If you’re on medication and getting repeat prescriptions without seeing your GP, it’s a good idea to ask for a regular review of your medication to make sure it’s still working for you.
Call your doctor if you’ve forgotten what you’ve been told
If you find that you’ve forgotten something that was told to you, ring your GP back and ask them to tell you again. This can be really important if you have started on medication.
What if my GP isn’t helpful?
You may have a GP who isn’t sympathetic to depression (although, thankfully, less GPs feel this way these days), or perhaps you don’t feel you’ve been heard or are unhappy with the treatment offered. You still have some options…
See another GP in the same surgery
Another GP may have a very different approach that suits you better. You can ask to see a different GP in the same surgery. You don’t have to register or give a reason why, just ask the receptionist for an appointment with a different person. Or you can register with a different GP surgery in your area. Find GP surgeries on NHS 24.
Sometimes you may not want to change your GP or maybe you live in a rural area and don’t have that option. An advocate can support you to put your point across to your GP or to any other professional you are working with. Visit the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance to find out more about advocacy and what is available in your area.
Getting further help
If you want to to talk about whether or not to go and see your GP or about what happened when you were at the GP surgery, phone us on 0808 802 2020 or email us. Read more about the treatment options for depression.