CBT CAFE’S GUIDE TO GETTING HELP
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and therefore I can only guide you through personal experiences of mine / people I know.
(PLEASE READ: If you need urgent help you can visit Mind’s website for further advice and click the “I need urgent help” button where you will be directed on what to do next.)
OK, with that out of the way, something often asked is how to go about getting help with mental health. I’ve had to think about that a bit because it took a long time and the answer isn’t straightforward but in this guide I will try to talk you through things and what you can do for yourself. As I’m based in the UK, I don’t know how things work in other countries. I will, therefore, be referring to the NHS.
1. Listen to yourself
Listen to your body and the way it feels, and your feelings. I knew I needed help because I couldn’t breathe, not like a panic attack but continually and unremittingly. I knew that my body was physically healthy as I had been very physically unwell years before and had lots of tests. Maybe you don’t know what you are feeling, you just know you don’t feel right. That’s OK. You don’t need to diagnose yourself to receive help, you just need to be aware of a difference.
2. Talk to a friend or family member if you can.
Let them know that you’re struggling. This can be really hard, I know! I’m really bad at this but if you can tell just one person that should take the pressure off you a little bit.
3. Look up the number of your GP surgery
In the best scenario, you will already be registered with them, but if you are not then find your local surgery (you can do that here). It’s best to be registered with a GP surgery before you’re in an emergency. It just makes things easier administratively.
4. Pick up the phone.
This is a major step. My heart was pounding making this first call but you can do it. You don’t need to tell the receptionists what’s wrong but you might want to ask for a double appointment to give you enough time to talk. If it’s too hard to pick up the phone you can ask your friend or family member to make the call for you.
5. Go to your appointment.
You can take someone along if this makes it easier. It will be hard to talk but that’s OK. A good GP will be patient and caring. If you don’t feel this in your first appointment then you can always swap GP.
6. Your GP will ask you some questions about how you’re feeling.
For example, whether there have been any changes in your life. There is no right or wrong answer, it’s important to just be honest. GPs have lots of experience and are not generally shocked.
7. Your GP might prescribe you some medication depending on what you need
ou might be offered beta blockers for anxiety, or antidepressants if your problem is low mood. Sometimes the GP will wait to prescribe you with anything, but they will ask to see you again to see if you improve.
8. You might feel very tired and drained after your appointment and that’s OK.
You made it! You made the first step! That’s great. Congratulations! This is your first step on your path to recovery so you should feel proud of yourself.
9. You will be invited to a follow up appointment.
Again, you can go alone, or with a friend. And again be honest. This time you may be asked about whether you are interested in therapy or counselling. There are many reasons people seek help and this will determine what you are offered. I was offered counselling for grief. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) wouldn’t have been appropriate under those circumstances. Hopefully you will be offered what’s right for you at this stage, but it’s a question of funding in your area. It may take many months.
10. Your journey to recovery has begun.
Hopefully at this stage your medication or therapy/counselling will be helping, but sometimes you will feel much worse before you feel better. That’s OK, just remember to keep in touch with friends, family and your GP.
For many people number 10 is the last step, and they go on to feel much better but sometimes things are more complicated.
11. If your symptoms don’t seem to be getting better, or are actively getting worse you might be referred for more specialist help.
This will be in the form of the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) or a psychiatrist. You should keep in touch with your GP and therapist or counsellor and update them with how you are feeling so your treatment is not delayed.
12. You might feel scared
If you are referred to the CMHT or a psychiatrist you may feel really scared. You can prepare for your appointment the same way as when you went to your GP. It’s a really good idea to take a friend or family member at this stage. They can help fill in the gaps for you if you find it hard to speak.
13. A psychiatrist will ask you a very detailed history.
They will ask you about your symptoms, what you are feeling right now, and about your family and possibly your childhood. Again, this can be hard, but you need to be honest. It’s the only way that you’ll get the right help. You may receive a new diagnosis at this point, or have the diagnosis your GP has given you confirmed. This is OK, it means that you can arm yourself with information.
14. The psychiatrist will give you a treatment plan.
Following an assessment with the psychiatrist you will either be referred back to your GP with a follow-up plan or a change of medication, or you will be closely monitored by a psychiatrist. You don’t need to be scared about this. A psychiatrist is really just like a GP who has more specialised understanding of what’s going on with you. If you have the right psychiatrist they will be compassionate and caring and you will form a trusting relationship with them (I am aware that I was very lucky in this regard).
15. After careful monitoring your psychiatrist might decide to refer you to more specialist therapy.
For example. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) or a Psycho-education group with others with your condition. Mental illness can make you feel really lonely so this is good. It gives you a chance to meet other people like you. Again, going to the first session can be really scary, particularly if you have social anxiety, but hang in there. It will feel easier after the first session.
16. Your psychiatrist may discharge you back to your GP’s care.
This should only happen when they feel you are better. This may depend on funding. Most of these services are severely stretched. You might not feel totally well again but there is mostly only funding for psychiatrists to see people right in the depth of crisis.
17. You might have a setback after being discharged.
The good thing about psychiatrists (in my experience at least) is that once you are the system it can actually be easier to get an appointment than with your GP.
Hopefully by this stage your condition is more manageable and you’ve had a ton of support. I know, this is the best case scenario here. Here’s the big thing: the Twitter mental health community will always be there. Come and talk to us! There are many, many, really nice mental health campaigners and advocates to talk to. Remember to keep checking in with your loved ones. Reach out. Talk. Try not to be alone for a long time. Your journey has been tough and it may still be tough for quite some time. If you have trouble with this in your day-to-day life then again, come and talk to us on Twitter. I promise you’ll feel less alone.
Finally, Here are a couple of ways you can seek out therapy if you would like something more long term than what the NHS can currently offer. Have a look for a private therapist who offers psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapy. One of these may work for you if you know that you have long term issues or things that have upset you from childhood. The NHS used to offer this kind of therapy but these days they just don’t have the funding for it. These types of therapy can be very expensive but most good therapists offer a sliding scale of what you can afford to pay. You can ask about this at your first meeting.
Other sources for support:
There are a number of groups and charities who you can call for professional advice and support. A list of these can be found here
CBT Cafe offers a relaxed, safe and non-therapeutic space for people to talk and support each other through any mental health struggles they may be experiencing, all over a nice cup of tea and cake. You can find out about our next cafes here