This week we've seen lots of news about mental health - from claims that a blood test can predict responsiveness to antidepressants to a suggestion that women are at greater risk of experiencing anxiety.
It's great that mental health increasingly dominates the news agenda, a clear indication that awareness is growing and stigma decreasing. But for many, mental health is still a difficult thing to talk about, even when faced with health professionals whose job it is to offer us support.
A prime example is speaking to your GP or practice nurse about your mental health. It's hard enough opening up to a close friend or family member, but when it comes to your GP, it can be really challenging. Your GP might be someone you hardly know, and you've only got a few minutes. But that shouldn't put you off.
GPs and practices nurses are often the first port of call for people struggling with their mental health for the first time. They are very much used to people coming through their doors and opening up about these kind of issues.
In fact, roughly one in three GP appointments has a mental health component. They can help us get the treatment and support we need. If we're reluctant to talk to our GP, we might instead bottle things up, and that can make things worse. It's far better to ask for help earlier on, even if you're not certain that you're experiencing a mental health problem.
Fortunately, Mind, the mental health charity, has put together a guide called 'Find the Words' which offers advice on how to take that first step and have the conversation. Featuring lots of handy information, the guide covers when it might be worth visiting your GP practice, tips for preparing for your appointment, and advice for during the appointment, in order to make the most of your time with them. Below are some key pointers.
When to speak to your GP
You might want to speak to your GP if you're increasingly worrying about things you didn't used to, you're finding it more difficult to sleep or enjoy the things you normally would, or if you're having thoughts that are difficult to cope with, and this is having an impact on your day-to-day life.
Preparing for your appointment
Once you've made an appointment, it's understandable to feel anxious, but preparing in advance can help reduce anxiety. It could be helpful to write down what you want to say ahead of time, and take your notes with you. Make sure you allow enough time to get to your appointment, so you don't feel rushed. Some people find it helpful to ask someone to come with you for support - a close friend, partner or family member. You could also highlight or print out any information you've found that helps you explain how you're feeling.
Finding the words
Because mental health affects everyone differently, and the language we use to describe our thoughts and behaviours is unique to us, there's no right or wrong way to tell your GP how you're feeling. The best thing is to be honest and open, and focus on how you feel, rather than whether or not you meet a diagnosis. Try to explain how things have been for you over the past few months or weeks, and anything that's changed.
What to expect
Typically, you could be offered, or given information about, various types of treatment or services, such as medication (such as antidepressants), talking therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), physical exercise and nearby organisations and charities that support people affected by mental health problems, such as local Minds.