Mental health is a priority area in our work. In our 2015 report ‘Finding mental health advice and support in Vassall ward’, we found that eight out of ten people we spoke to would first approach their GP if they had a mental health difficulty (2015). This new report builds on that finding, by exploring the experiences of patients who have consulted a GP for a mental health concern. We were particularly interested in listening to their perceptions, expectations and experiences in deciding to ask for help and in receiving the care and support they needed. We spoke to six GPs from five different surgeries. All interviewees were female and aged between 35 and 40 years old. They defined their ethnicity as White British (2), British-Asian, Indian (2) and Chinese. One GP was a Partner and the rest were on salaried contracts and all had been working in Lambeth for at least a year.
- Before the GP appointment - People waited between one day and several years before contacting their GP. The fear of having to wait a long time for an appointment or see a different GP each time acts as a barrier to people making an appointment
- During the GP appointment - Two thirds of the people we spoke to found their GP easy to talk to about mental health due to them being empathic and kind. Others described their GPs as unfriendly and uncaring, with little knowledge or interest around their mental health concerns.
- After the GP appointment - Follow-up emotional support was important for people, including phone calls and second appointments. Some people went to the GP for more in-depth advice around psychosocial issues, which added pressure onto GPs.
Across the 58 stories we heard, there were significant variations in individuals’ experiences of visiting the GP with mental health concerns. Some patients we spoke to were very grateful for the support they had received from the GP, with good experiences leading to positive health outcomes and self-care, as well as a broader appreciation for the importance of mental health. We heard about empathic and caring GPs who went out of their way to help; running over appointment times and following with phone calls later in the week. However, other people felt immensely let down by their GP. This was at times due to the GP’s attitude or lack of interest, or an inability to provide meaningful support.