A general practitioner (GP) is the first point of contact for everyone who has a physical or mental health issue. They are trained to know and understand a very broad range of conditions and can prescribe treatments for those. They can also, where necessary, refer somebody to have medical examinations carried out or to see a specialist.
A GP can assist individuals with mental health needs in a number of ways; they are able to refer people to mental health services, they can (in some cases) prescribe medications and manage peoples’ mental health, they can do physical health checks, they are able to assess care needs and provide support to carers and they can provide support themselves where there is a positive relationship.
Real life experience
I have personally had both good and bad experiences of contact with GPs. My bad experiences have generally occurred when the GP was invalidating or dismissive of my condition or concern. For example, when I told one GP about how my anxiety levels had been high, they replied by telling me that “I did not look anxious”. On another occasion I had experienced a side effect from a prescribed antidepressant. After mentioning this to my GP they told me that “this drug should not do this”, despite it being one of the listed side effects. In both instances I felt invalidated, and therefore found it difficult to confide in or trust them on future occasions. This kind of dismissive attitude is not an isolated one – people with mental health conditions are less likely to receive treatment for a completely unrelated condition, such as a diabetic emergency, than those without any diagnosed mental health conditions. This suggests that some doctors may view physical illnesses as psychosomatic, even if these conditions are very real.
However, I have had positive experiences with my current GP, who I feel I can trust and who I believe understands my personal challenges. They take time to ask questions about how I have been feeling, about anything that has been happening in my life, and appears to take interest in what I have to say rather than simply look at their screen or spend the whole time taking notes. This particular GP will tell me about any side effects from any prescribed drugs, and will tell me that I can see him at any point if I feel that my condition is deteriorating.