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Talking to your doctor (GP) about mental health

6-minute read

Many health professionals provide mental health services. Your doctor (GP) is often a good place to start for most mental health conditions. Doctors can provide treatment or refer you to other services for mental health.

It is important to talk about your mental health, but it can be difficult. Here are some tips for how to start a conversation with a doctor about your mental health.

Search for a doctor in your location.

What questions do I ask when choosing a GP?

If you don’t have a regular doctor already, you can find one by speaking to your local pharmacist and look at websites of practices in your area. You can also ask family and friends for GP recommendations, though they may not have a mental health focus. Your local mental health community centre can suggest suitable doctors in your area.

You can then call a general practice to ask:

  • how to make appointments
  • what is their billing policy
  • if the practice is easily accessible in terms of location and opening days and hours
  • if the practice meets any special needs or preferences you may have, such as language, culture or gender of the doctor

You might want to ask your doctor if they have an interest in mental health, and about their qualifications and experience in mental health. Even if your doctor does not have an interest or skills in mental health treatment, they can suggest other doctors who do.

Ask yourself if you feel comfortable talking to your doctor about how you are feeling. It is normal to be nervous or embarrassed about a mental health appointment. It may help to choose a clinic that has features such as:

  • friendly staff
  • clear contact information and arrangements
  • the option of long consultations
  • follow-up arrangements
  • remote and face-to-face appointments

These things may make your visit smoother and help you feel more comfortable. The easier it is to speak with your doctor, the more you will get out of your visit.

A doctor who helps you with mental health should be able to provide support and assessment. They should also be able to organise ongoing care and referrals to psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health services if required.

Starting a conversation about mental health with your GP

It is important to be honest with your doctor about your feelings and behaviour so that they can give you the best treatment.

Tell your doctor:

  • your symptoms, thoughts and how you feel
  • any circumstances that may be relevant to your mental health
  • your concerns (including privacy concerns)
  • how what you feel has affected your life

Talking about your mental health can be hard. You can take a family member or close friend along for support. They can also help explain your situation to the doctor, and they can help remember the discussions you had.

What questions will my doctor ask me?

Mental health assessments often take more than one visit. Your doctor will need to get to know you so they can give you the best support. They may ask questions about your:

  • lifestyle choices
  • goals
  • physical health
  • financial circumstances
  • cultural background
  • work or school environment
  • medications
  • family history of physical and mental illness
  • psychological or emotional experiences

It is also good to tell your doctor if you have any preferences for your treatment.

Your GP will be able to assess whether a mental health treatment plan is right for you. Your health care needs, goals, treatment and referrals would be recorded in your mental health care plan.

Your doctor may also refer you to other health care professionals for further treatment or a clearer diagnosis.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

One way to get the most out of your visit is by asking questions. Writing a list of questions before the visit can help.

A good starting point is:

  • What are all of my options?
  • Is it normal to feel like this?
  • What is my condition?
  • What do you think are the best options for me?
  • How much better might I feel?
  • When might I feel better?

It is vital that you understand what your doctor tells you. If there is something you do not understand, be sure to speak up. Doctors are very happy to explain things again.

It is best to ask upfront how much the visit will cost you. If you aren’t eligible for Medicare, you will pay the full cost. If you are eligible, then Medicare covers some or all of the cost.

Your doctor can also refer you to services by psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists. Medicare rebates are available for people who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder and have a mental health care plan. These rebates include up to 20 individual (until 31 December 2022) and 10 group therapy sessions.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use our Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How can I help manage my mental health?

Ask your doctor about online programs and resources that help you to take care of yourself.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022

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