A recent study has shown that only 52 percent of young people would feel comfortable talking to their GP about their mental wellbeing. As a 20-year-old who suffers from anxiety and depression, I have seen various GPs throughout my teenage years. The survey, conducted by the Right Here project, unveiled the problems that young people encounter. These reminded me of the many problems I myself have come across as a young person struggling with mental health.
The transition into adulthood is a common time for mental health issues to manifest. My anxiety first became apparent when I was about 13. By 15 it had become a serious issue affecting my everyday life, and by 16 it was accompanied by depression. I didn’t see a GP about my problems until I was 17, and by this time, my problems were too severe to be easily fixed.
Like most young people, I put off going to my GP. I wasn’t entirely sure what was wrong with me, and I didn’t see how anyone else would be able to help. I was scared that if I told anyone, they would think I was crazy. I didn’t want to be committed to some sort of asylum. One major problem in our society is that mental health is seen as a kind of taboo. No one talks about it. So when I started suffering from it, I had no idea what was wrong or what to do about it.
Another problem is that parents often discourage their children from seeking help in fear that admitting that the child needs treatment means that they have an official illness. No parent wants a child with a mental health disorder. The truth is that mental health problems are surprisingly common. It is thought that one in 10 children between five and 16-years-old have a recognised mental health disorder.
When I finally saw a GP, I was nervous about the response I would get, but they were very understanding. For the first time, someone explained to me clearly what the cause of my problem was. But the issue lay not in them being unwilling to provide help, but being unable. I was 17, so I wasn’t really a child, but I was not yet an adult either. Due to this, I got trapped in the bureaucracy of the health system. I was deemed unsuitable for child services but ineligible for adult ones.
Many respondents in the study said that when referrals were made for them by their GP, it was poorly explained to them. Unfortunately, I too found this to be the case. I was referred to the mental health services for an assessment, but when I attended this, I was told that I was unsuitable to be treated by them, and I had been incorrectly referred. I felt like I was being batted back and forth between different people, and unwanted anywhere. It wasn’t until I was 18, and therefore an adult in the eyes of the law, that I could access effective help.
I was recommended for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which has proved to be very successful when treating anxiety. However, my GP knew that I would be leaving to go across the country and start university in a month’s time. CBT is a long-term solution, so the sessions with my therapist seemed like a waste of time considering the limited time period. I tried nonetheless, but did not mesh well with the therapist. It’s important that you feel a connection with them, but I had no option to change to someone else, because there simply wasn’t anyone else available.
For me, medication proved to be the most useful solution. A lot of young people in the survey complained that drugs were forced upon them too quickly by their GPs. But my doctor tried everything she could before resorting to drugs. No one wants to be dependent on a daily dose of pills, so I’m glad that she explored every option first. Nonetheless, I personally found that anti-depressants made a world of difference. It was unfortunate that I was not allowed to have them prescribed until I was 18. I spent many years suffering simply because of my age.
The main problem the study identified was that young people did not feel as if they were taken seriously by GPs. I am lucky to have not often had this issue. My GP was always very understanding, and spoke to me as an adult. She explained things clearly and was not patronising as I’ve found others to be since. When I moved to university, I saw various GPs and found various responses to my problems. Some doctors seemed dismissive of my mental health problems as if they were unimportant. However, it should be stressed that the majority are helpful and well trained in dealing with mental health.
The only annoying thing is the condescending way in which every new doctor explains the “fight or flight” mechanism of anxiety to me. If they looked at my notes, they would see how long I have suffered from anxiety. I could probably tell them more about it than they can these days.
For more information on mental health or to get advice or information go to http://www.rethink.org/
Written by Katy McIntosh