Seeking mental health support from a GP

Contact our mental health engagement lead, Mike Rogers on tel no: 020 7095 5766 or

Our work in Vassall ward (2015) revealed that most people would choose to visit their GP first if they needed help for a mental health concern. That research however, didn’t tell us what it was actually like when someone approaches a GP for help. What happens during and after a GP visit can affect a person’s mental health in terms of their treatment, recovery and engagement with services. Our next step was to understand what it is like for Lambeth residents to talk to their GP about their mental health.

Listening to patients' experiences

Between October and November 2016, we ran an online survey which asked questions around how people felt before approaching their GP, and how long it took them to do so. We also wanted to know how easy it was for them to open-up about their concerns and whether the consequent support was helpful and timely. 58 Lambeth residents and people registered with a Lambeth GP shared their experiences either via the online survey or face-to-face interviews with our mental health engagement lead, Anna. We also interviewed GPs to hear how they felt about supporting people with mental health concerns.

Reviewing GP websites and waiting rooms

Mental health information on GP websites and displayed in waiting rooms are important communication methods between surgeries and patients. If the information is easy to understand, displayed well and accessible, it can alleviate the pressure on GPs, support more meaningful consultations, and help patients to access treatment quicker by self-referring, rather than waiting for a GP referral. Therefore, we looked at all of Lambeth’s 48 GP websites and visited 47 GP waiting rooms.

What we found

The feedback we received through our GP experiences survey was mixed, some reported that it “could not have been better” and felt supported, understood and confident in the treatment provided. However, others felt they had been ignored or misunderstood and left isolated with little or no support. With regards to the availability of mental health information, we found a wide range of materials displayed across the 47 GP waiting rooms but with no clear rationale as to why those specific services were being advertised. We felt that the information on websites was inconsistent.

Summary of our recommendations

Our full reports make a series of recommendations that suggest ways in which the NHS Lambeth Clinical Commissioning Group and GP surgeries can improve people’s experience of talking to their GP about their mental health.

Below is a summary:

1. GP surgeries should advertise patients’ rights in booking appointments.

2. Increase GP training and understanding regarding mental health.

3. Clinical support for patients with mental health concerns must be strategic and person-centred.

4. Improve support to manage ‘the wait’ between GP and specialist services.

5. NHS Lambeth Clinical Commissioning Group should require and support all GP practices to adhere to a minimum quality standard with respect to the dissemination of mental health information via GP surgery websites and waiting rooms.