Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mental Illness: How Prepared is Your GP?

A tweet from Black Dog Tribe today led me to this video by Professor Lewis Wolpert where he mentions that he doesn't think most GP's are prepared enough to deal with patients with mental illness. Additionally, he voices something that I totally agree with - that unless you have experienced a mental illness you can never really understand what it's all about.

Friends, people I've worked with & even anonymous posters on a number of forums I frequent have all said the same thing. A lot complain about GP's who try & look at other causes, or don't have an understanding how bad it really is. Or those that give a prescription for some form of mild anti-depressant with absolutely no follow-up at a later date. Sadly a lot of people with mental illness find, after working up the courage to initially mention their problem, that doing anything more themselves is just too hard. They just won't go back and seek further assistance.

I know for myself it was talking to other sufferers that started making it easier for me to deal with my illness. Doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists & other mental health workers just didn't seem to understand just what it's like. No offence at all to those working in the mental health field, they do what their training & experience tells them to do. But sometimes this just isn't enough, and the sufferer feels let down by the system or just fall through the cracks.

My old family GP was a good doctor, I liked going to him & he was the first one I opened up to about my problem. He tried to help, arranged anti-depressants, got me to see a psychiatrist and try and get me going in the right direction. Only problem was that I really didn't enjoy my sessions with my psychiatrist (for some reason he thought going for a walk or getting a job to occupy my mind was the solution - for someone who couldn't leave the house!). Additionally, my initial (and incorrect) diagnosis of severe depression was the one that stuck for the next 11 years.

After I was diagnosed I did a lot of research on the subject and it wasn't long before I realised I wasn't just depressed, I was more likely bipolar. But no-one seemed to listen. Everything was directed at trying to fix my depression and it wasn't working. They seemed to go deaf when I mentioned my periods of mania - they were very short compared to my long periods of depression - and it just slipped by. And some of the medications I tried during this period are great for treating depression, but were some of the worst for treating bipolar, making things even drastic.

It was only after moving to another area a couple of years ago that anything really changed, and even that took a more than a year of seeing my new GP. But eventually I had a few things go badly wrong for me and early last year I went to my doctor hell bent on getting help. I booked a long appointment and we spent the time really going through everything & at last he really listened, He seemed to understand. My diagnosis was changed & added to, booked in with a new counsellor and, probably most importantly, was changed to more suitable medications.

The last 12 months have been totally different for me, after an initial period of switching meds and tweaking them to meet my needs. Probably still some changes to be made there, but it has been a much better year than I had experienced in a long time. Still a long way to go, just heading in the right direction. But it was my actions that brought about this change. I was still being treated as just suffering depression until the time I just about forced my GP to listen. I was lucky & he did really try to understand & for that I'm grateful. Sadly a lot of sufferers just can't bring themselves to make the sort of stand I did.

With up to 10% of the population suffering from a mental illness at some stage it is probably something that needs to be looked into. This feeling of not being listened to or understood by others is a big reason why only about 1 in 5 sufferers will seek professional help, and it's very likely there are many more who don't follow through after an initial treatment or two.

So what is your experience with GP's and mental health workers? Good? Bad? Indifferent? What can be done to improve the situation? I have no idea myself, though if I think about it during my next manic period I'm sure I'll find a solution, I just need to be able to hold onto it. ;)

Let me know your thoughts.


The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

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