I’m convinced that a major reason that some people don’t seek help for mental health because of the uncertainty around the issue. In the niche little worlds of medical schools, despite effort from the GMC and faculties, I basically had no idea about the frameworks that are there to support students. I’m going to recount the first days after I decided that I need help in an effort to demystify this particular terrifying leap of faith.
Fri 26/02/16 pm – Sat 27/02/16 am
Let’s just say that I had a bad night. This was the point where I first realised that maybe I need professional help. Prior to this, I hadn’t even entertained the notion of having a problem with mental health. Long story short: my flatmates and I decided the best course of action was to call up the GP practice on Monday morning to see if they have appointments going.
Sat 27/02/16 pm
I was lucky that one of my friends who knew what was going on uses the university counselling service. They directed me to the website I needed to request an appointment.
Mon 29/02/16 pm
I have never been so terrified of a GP appointment in my life. Leg jiggling, nails digging into my arms, heart rate through the roof, breathing and sweating like I’d ran a half marathon (or, considering my fitness, like I’d ran from home half a mile away), jumping at every sound (trust me, a GP waiting room isn’t the quietest of places. You’d be forgiven for thinking I sat on a hedgehog), looking around the room with trembling fingers like I’d committed a murder. I was frantically texting a friend who turned out to be the most rock-solid, supportive life-saver (one of many) in the next few months.
When my turn came (about seven minutes late, the last six of it consisting of “oh no what if I didn’t sign in properly? Or put in my details wrong so I signed in another patient by accident? Oh no my appointment is late. I signed in wrong. I don’t want to do this. Oh no why did I do this? I don’t think I need medical help. Oh no I’m wasting someone’s appointment slot. I don’t need this appointment”) I bolted out of my chair into the consultation room.
So the GP diagnosed me with depression and anxiety (a non-medical student could have told me that reading the previous couple of paragraphs, but never mind). She gave me an antidepressant and, in the weeks waiting for it to kick in, a tranquilliser. She also signposted me to the medical school pastoral support team, who turned out to be a godsend in the next term. I made an appointment with them.
Thursday 03/03/16 am
Counselling. Again, with no idea what to expect I was a little terrified. Turns out that the tranquillisers make me look a little drunk so I was both hyper with anxiety and leaden. It was my first stint with the student counselling service and their policy was to fill in a form finding out more about you, which issues you’d like to talk about in the sessions, and a PHQ-9 and GAD-7 form (seriously, I’ve filled out so many of those. So many).
The appointment was just… reassuring. There was a fraction of the anxiety when I came back for the next appointment, but I guess that came naturally with more idea of what to expect.
Thursday 03/03/16 pm
My logical and organised brain obviously thought that the best thing to do was schedule pastoral support basically on top of the counselling appointment. Seriously, of all the free hours in the week, I chose the one straight after counselling. I sprint to the medical school and made it – just. Cue the I’ve-just-murdered-someone look that I adopted at the GP.
Like I said, godsend. The person I saw turned out to be an impartial guardian angel with the experience of having been a medical student, the expertise of being a doctor, the knowledge of being on the medical school staff, the foresight of having worked in pastoral support for yonks, and the empathy of a counsellor.
If you think you need a little support and something that’s stopping you is that you just have no clue what’s gonna happen, I urge you to take that blind leap of faith. It’s the most terrifying thing I’ve had to do all year, but it was probably one of my better decisions.