After reading the news story this week about GP receptionists ‘putting people off making appointments’, it really made me think about my own experiences with this and healthcare professionals as someone with a mental illness.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve spent an annoying (and very boring) amount of time at the doctors. But in order to get there, a vital part is to get through the scary gatekeepers. Quite often, I’ve had to make doctor’s appointments last minute and when I do, I’m met with the question “Is it a medical emergency?”. Although now I have learnt to say yes, the first few times I felt like a liar if I said it was. I really thought my mental illness didn’t count. And then when I was sitting in my appointment with the doctor, I was waiting for them to say “Make sure you don’t book an emergency appointment for this again”. Just to clarify though, they never actually did do that!
Looking back, I first knew I had to go to the doctors when I was around 14 years old. I had excruciating stomach ache and I knew it was anxiety as both a cause and result of OCD. I remember just being completely sure that this was exactly what it was so in a sense, I self-diagnosed. I still find it interesting that even at the little old age of 14, I waited until I felt the effect of the physical pain rather than the mental pain to do something about it.
Now, I don’t really remember what happened next, but after speaking to my family recently about the experience, I feel quite angry at the response they got from medical professionals. Initially we went to our GP who apparently had a little chuckle to himself when my mum told him what was wrong. Not only this, but he suggested that he could refer us “if we thought we might find it useful”. Imagine if my mum and I had both just gone “Nah actually mate think we’re alright. Soz to waste your time”. It disappoints me to hear that a doctor responded that way to a child. It’s so important to be understanding and empathetic of another’s situation even if you just can’t fathom it yourself. Especially if you’re the one the person is reaching out to for help.
To end the post on a high note I’m happy to report that it hasn’t all been a shitter on the doctor front! Whilst suffering with depression in my final year of uni, I had the most amazing doctor I ever could have asked for. During my first appointment where I broke down in tears as I told her about the immense sadness I was experiencing, she made the most simple gesture that I have never forgotten. She moved away from her desk and closer to me where she reached out to comfort me. I felt like she genuinely cared and that she was going to help get me better. It was the first step in no longer feeling alone. And she did help, a huge amount. She monitored my mental health for the whole of my third year and took me entirely seriously. She didn’t judge, laugh or dismiss what I said.
I wish I could be the one to reach out to her now and tell her how different my last year at uni would’ve been if it wasn’t for her. I know she was only doing her job but from the first appointment, I just felt like she completely got it. She just knew how hard living with a mental illness was and she genuinely wanted to help.
I really hope those of you struggling out there have a doctor as lovely as that. I hope you feel understood and not dismissed when you find the courage to admit to someone that everything actually isn’t ok.
Oh, and although it’s not very British, always remember that if you are struggling, make your appointment, stand your ground and insist: “Yeah actually, it IS a medical emergency”.