Experiencing mental health problems is unpleasant enough as it is, and research by charities Mind and Picker says that issues accessing GP services risks exacerbating symptoms.
The Big Mental Health Survey of 8000 people trying to access GP services for their mental health revealed that:
- 33% had to wait six days or more for their most recent appointment, usually because it was the first appointment available.
- 32% said their mental health deteriorated whilst waiting for said appointment.
"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."
Why people are struggling to access GP services for their mental health
Mind's and Picker's research highlighted a number of reasons why people are having difficulties getting support, one being that, of the 47% asked to provide a reason for the GP appointment to administrative staff, 65% felt uncomfortable disclosing mental health issues.
Despite online booking systems being available at many surgeries, awareness of these facilities is low*. Only a quarter of respondents use them, with 54% saying they would prefer this method to over the phone or in person booking.
"There needs to be better systems in place so people with mental health problems feel comfortable when booking appointments and not fearful they will be judged" says 27-year-old from Stacie-Mai Pemberton from Swansea. This sentiment was echoed in the survey; 17% of people cited worries about what healthcare professionals would think of them as a reason why they have not seen a GP or practice nurse about their mental health in the past year.
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The survey highlights the need for a greater awareness of where one should go to seek mental health support. 14% of respondents were unsure whether their GP practice was the right place to go, with this uncertainty being a barrier that stopped them accessing services.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind mental health charity, draws attention to these issues: "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".
Sophie Edwards, a 21-year-old from Kent, says that the "seven months of uncertainty" between her first GP appointment and starting cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) made her depression 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", she reports.
Despite feeling as if the wait to get appropriate treatment worsened her symptoms, Sophie found therapy to be really effective: "I use the techniques I learnt in CBT without even realising. GPs are the gateway to accessing this kind of support."
The Big Mental Health Survey 2018 can be completed at www.bigmentalhealthsurvey.com - it will be running every year so that data can be monitored and used to hold services accountable.
*Citizens Advice 2016 research: Fewer than 3 in 10 patients (27 per cent) said they were aware of being able to book appointments online