Consulting a doctor

A GP doctor is the starting point within the healthcare system. Your doctor is the right person to diagnose depression and to advise you on the best treatments for you. A doctor will discuss pros and cons of medication with you.

Make sure you are registered

Most students register with a local GP when they first come to university or college. Many universities and some colleges have one or more affiliated GP practices, with doctors who are experienced in working with students.

What a GP doctor can do:

  • diagnose whether or not you have depression by clinical definition,
  • give information and recommendations that may help,
  • prescribe antidepressant or other medications,
  • make a referral for NHS counselling, eg. the free CBT services available in many areas
  • make a referral to other mental health services
  • sometimes make referrals for alternative therapies, like massage or exercise schemes.

GPs are often very busy and they are not usually able to offer long consultations. This doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be helpful. It is best to be realistic about what you will get from your GP.

At the same time, it can feel like a very big step to go to your doctor about how you are feeling. You may not be sure how you will explain the problem. It is worth planning ahead to get the most out of the appointment.

How to get the most out of your GP appointment

  1. Although all GPs should be able to deal competently with depression, GPs have different interests. Try to find out which GP in the practice has an interest in working with depression.
  2. Be prepared to make an appointment well in advance in order to see the GP of your choice (unless you feel you are at risk).
  3. Think ahead about what you want to get from the appointment and say this clearly to the GP at the outset. For example: “I have been feeling low lately and I wanted to check this out with you. I am not sure I want to be given medication, but would like to find out more about this and other options to help me feel better.”
  4. Be prepared to answer possible questions about recent patterns of sleep, eating, weight, activity and mood. You can use the ‘Am I depressed?’ worksheet below to think ahead about how depression may be affecting you personally and record things to show the doctor.
  5. Write down what questions you might want to ask, eg. about other mental health services available.
  6. Make a separate appointment for any other ailments you might have, so they don’t cloud the issue. A GP appointment is not usually long enough to deal properly with more than one thing.
  7. Don’t give up if your first experience is unsatisfactory. Try a different doctor, or a different time of day.

Next: Pros and cons of medication

Take Action

Appointment preparation

Related

Changes depression brings
Check suicide & self harm
Building a good support network