One in three people have experienced a decline in mental health while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, according to a survey of 8,000 people.
A third (33 per cent) of people trying to access GP services for their mental health had to wait six days or more for an appointment, often because it was the first appointment available.
Sophie Edwards, 21, from Kent said that she realised she needed mental health support for depression when at university, but her first GP appointment wasn’t even helpful. “I was brushed off and handed a leaflet,” she said.
“I had to go back several times to get the help and support I needed – begging to be referred for cognitive behavioural therapy.”
Edwards continued: “After finally being deemed a priority and endless letters from my doctor, I received the call to say my wait was over. During the seven months of uncertainty, my depression got much worse.
“A lot of things happened in my life, from losing family members to going through a breakup, which all made the waiting and relentless pressure to get the right support even more stressful.
“I also felt because of the long wait and my depression worsening, my therapy wasn’t really dealing with the aspect of my mental health which I was currently struggling with.”
The survey, conducted in conjunction with independent research charity Picker, found more than one in 10 people have wanted to see their GP or a practice nurse about their mental health in the past year, but haven’t been able to.
This was mainly down to people having a poor experience of the service in the past, with one quarter (25 per cent) saying they had been put off going again. Other reasons included not knowing if the GP surgery was the right place to get help, not thinking they would get an appointment in time, and worrying about what healthcare professionals would think.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said the lack of support for people is “unacceptable”.
The survey also found that when trying to book an appointment half of people (47 per cent) were asked to provide a reason for why they needed to see someone. Of these, two in three didn’t feel comfortable saying it was for their mental health.
“We know that there are many barriers to people seeking help from their GP in the first place, but on top of this we are concerned that problems with booking appointments may deter people further,” Farmer said.
“When people do manage to see their GP, experiences are mixed, and young people in particular seem to have much worse experiences of care.”
He called on better support and training for doctors, as well as more funding for mental health services: “GPs do a hugely important job under immense pressure. Most people accessing support for their mental health will only be seen by their GP, so we need to ensure GPs have the right support and training, and that services have sufficient funding, to provide high-quality, timely and appropriate care to those of us experiencing mental health problems.”