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The risks in self-diagnosing a mental health problem

Visiting your GP is the best step to take if you think you have a mental health condition


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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With so much information easily accessible online, when we feel that there is something wrong with us, our first tendency can be to google our symptoms. The internet is an amazing tool which can help us educate ourselves on so many topics, but when it comes to both our physical health and mental health, it is important to rely only on a certified medical practitioner to diagnose anything we think may be wrong with us.

Why should I visit my GP about my mental health?

If you are having difficulties with your mental health or feel that there may be something wrong your first step to take should be to visit a GP. GP stands for General Practitioner, it is the term used for the local doctor in a community. Although it may seem like a daunting experience to open up to someone about how you are feeling, by talking to a GP you are making the best choice for yourself. Putting your mental health first means that if there is an issue, your doctor will be able to get you the help you need in the most efficient way.

When choosing which GP to visit it can be useful to ask around and see if you can find a GP you think you will be comfortable taking with honestly. You may not feel like you can be open with the GP that you have had as a child or that they still view you as a child and do not take your concerns seriously. If you would like to visit a different GP try to find one you think would, suit you taking into consideration if you would be more comfortable speaking to a man or a women or to someone closer to your own age.

For more information about talking to your GP about a mental health conditions click here.

Can I find out what is wrong with me online?

There is nothing wrong with googling a type of mental health illness if you think you may have it and want to learn more about the condition. The issue is that many mental health conditions will have similar symptoms and if you decide for certain that you have one condition, you may cut yourself off from getting the correct treatment that you need.

Take, for example, a person who is experiencing severe mood swings. Mood swings can be caused for many different reasons and can be a symptom of several mental health conditions. Personality disorders, bipolar and depression are just some of the mental health conditions which show symptoms that include mood swings. Mood swings can also be caused by hormonal changes in the body, such as when going through puberty or when pregnant, and also as a result of abusing alcohol and drugs. Without visiting a GP, there is no way to say for certain what is causing the person’s mood swings, and the person will not be able to treat the issue properly themselves.

Can I trust my GP's advice?

If you believe you have a certain type of mental health condition, it is important to visit your GP with an open mind. Although you may be correct about your condition, allowing the doctor to explore all aspects of your mental and physical health history will help them to make an informed and correct diagnosis. If a GP does not give you the diagnosis that you expected or is not able to give you a diagnosis straight away, it can be easy to feel disheartened. By following your doctor's advice, whether that is to seek further professional help, make changes to your lifestyle or go on medication, you are taking the best action when it comes to your mental health. If you do not agree with your doctor's diagnosis, there is nothing wrong with getting a second opinion once it is from another medical professional.

Should I visit a therapist instead of a GP?

It is your choice if you would rather visit a therapist than a GP. Unless you are able to pay for a therapist privately it will be easier to get an appointment with a GP. There are a variety of types of therapists that you can go see to discuss your mental health issues; these include a psychologists or psychiatrists. If you visit a psychiatrist they are trained medical doctors who can prescribe you medication to help treat your mental illness. If you visit a psychologist they will work with you to address your emotional and mental problems through counselling, but cannot prescribe medication. 

If you choose to see a doctor, after assessing you they will be able to tell you if you are mis-diagnosing yourself or if there is an underlying physical problem that may be causing your symptoms. With your medical history, the GP will be able to give you an accurate diagnosis and recommend treatments for you. The biggest difference between GPs and therapists is that doctors are legally allowed to prescribe you medication to try and help with your mental health problems, but they are not trained in long-term, psychological treatments.

If your GP feels that your mental health may be better treated by a mental health professional, they may refer you to a mental health service to see specialised therapists.If your GP does refer you to a youth mental health services, do not be worried. Try to be open minded about the treatments and give them a chance to work.

If you would like to talk to someone about your mental health there are free supports that can help: 

I don’t agree with my GP’s diagnosis, what should I do?

If you feel your GP is incorrect with your diagnosis, speak up. Sometimes GPs may not fully understand what you mean by a certain symptom, or may have misunderstood something you tried to explain. Make sure you speak as clearly as possible and explain your symptoms and what is bothering you in as much detail as possible. Do not be embarrassed of any of your symptoms or thoughts with the GP - they have seen every situation before.

Remember, there are a lot of possible diagnoses that may match the symptoms you have presented to your GP. Try to keep an open mind and ask your GP why they have diagnosed you with something. If it seems plausible based on their response, try the treatment they have suggested for you. Then if it does not work, you can come back to your GP to rethink what your symptoms could be suggesting - finding the right solution often takes time, so try not to worry if your symptoms do not improve straight away.

If you do not feel like your problems are addressed or sorted after your appointment try not to feel disheartened. It can take time for a GP to get to know their patient and to arrive at a diagnosis. It may also take you time to feel at ease and open up to your GP. If you truly feel like your GP is getting it wrong, seek a second professional opinion. Sometimes one GP might spot what another missed, so there is nothing wrong with asking for extra advice.

It can also be helpful to speak to someone close to you if you are worried about your mental health. By speaking to a parent or guardian you can voice your concerns and ask them for support in finding the help that is right for you in your situation. If you do not feel that you can speak to anyone close to you Childline offer a text, call and messaging service for young people up until the age of 18.

Visit our Mental Health Category to learn more about taking care of your mental health.

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Published Jan­u­ary 24th2019
Last updated Jan­u­ary 30th2019
Tags mental health APcontent
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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