Depression and low mood

Dealing with health professionals

Establishing and maintaining a good relationship with their health care providers – GP, counsellor, consultant psychiatrist, nursing staff and so on – was crucial to young people’s experience of care and the process of getting better. The key factors young people talked about influencing these relationships were good communication, trust and confidentiality, being treated as an equal partner and being involved in the decisions and, perhaps most importantly, being taken seriously.

Characteristics of a good health professional
Being treated as an individual, and for one’s life situation to be viewed as a whole were among the most important things young people wanted from their health care professionals. One woman said of her consultant:

“He’s the only one that’s properly seen me as a person with an illness as opposed to a walking illness.”
Young people described how the best health professionals they had come across were “encouraging”, “respectful” and "non-judgmental”, as well as “proactive” in finding out what would work best for which individual.
Many people remembered back to that one special individual who had stood up for them by “going out that extra mile”, being “very special” or just “chatting through the night” by their bedside whilst on the ward. Finding that someone who people felt a special connection with, and who they felt was “on their side” could make all the difference in getting better.
Making decisions together
One of the most important elements of care for young people was genuine involvement in their care and sharing decisions about treatments. People resented just being informed of the care plan and “being told what to do” without discussion or being told the reasoning behind those decisions.
Being involved in all their decisions about care helped people feel more in control and gain a sense of independence. A couple of people commented how it had really helped them rebuild trust in themselves, something which they’d struggled with as a consequence of depression. Some people even described being included in their care plan as the main turning point towards recovery.
Being offered all available help and support was important to many people as it made them feel better able to make most of the care. Some described the health professional’s role as “guiding us to find our own way” through the different options. People said it was important to be treated as an equal over decisions concerning their own life and some criticised these decisions as too “random” or lacking options when they only came from the doctor.
Trust & confidentiality
Being able to trust their doctor and the information, advice and care offered by them was key to how happy and satisfied people were with their care. Also, being able to trust their GP or therapist to honour confidentiality, with no information reaching their parents without young people’s consent, was just as important. Lack of trust in health care professionals had made some people “cynical” about talking to a doctor at all, or made them tell “an edited version” of what happened.
Trust involved having a good and open relationship with the health professional; to feel like they were genuinely interested in the young person’s situation, and trust in the professional’s skills, expertise and knowledge. A couple of people made the point that building trust was a long two-way process.
Communication and being listened to
Open communication with their doctor was essential for young people. They found it frustrating and irritating when health professionals wouldn’t speak directly to them but about them, with their parents, for example. They didn’t always feel listened to properly or said there wasn’t enough time in the clinic for them to be able to really tell the professional how they were feeling. Some had suffered from lack of communication or miscommunication between different health professionals within the health care system, for example between their GP and the consultant. Such experiences left these people needing to find things out for themselves and to keep proactive at a time when they were already struggling.
Feeling patronised was the most common complaint. Many people felt they weren’t taken seriously or that the doctors questioned whether their experiences were “real”. Some felt they had to “keep proving” to the doctor how bad they felt, or how much they wanted help. Several young people had initially been turned away by their GPs and told they were “too young” to have depression or their experiences were just put down to “hormones”. One woman described this experience:
“I think the health professionals, along the parents, underestimate it because of the age, and they think it’s a phase, and that it’s not very serious. One of my doctors told me to go home and sort myself out, which isn’t exactly something that’s helpful.”

Being told by a health professional that “I understand how you feel” was one of the most patronising lines young people said they could hear. Several felt that a health professional could never really understand their situation and to claim to do so was seen as dismissive and unsympathetic. Some felt they got very little help from their doctors who had only given them limited options (usually only medication) or “given up” on them too quickly.

For some young people, an unsympathetic approach or insensitive comments by health professionals could stay in their minds for a long time after.

Listening to your own body and accepting help
However, some people had had therapists or nurses who did have personal experiences of mental health problems and were genuinely able to draw on that knowledge – which many found helpful. Many people emphasised that they knew themselves best and for the health professionals to acknowledge and support this would be a better way forward. Many young people said they knew that health professionals were there to help them, and doing their best, but that sometimes they themselves weren’t in the right place to receive the help.
Health care system
Many made the point that once they had been diagnosed with a mental health problem, all their health complaints were always interpreted within that context, not giving them an opportunity for fair treatment:
“Also to be recognised that every health problem that I have it goes “no, it’s psychological”. It doesn’t matter what it is, I can, I could go down A&E with a suspected broken arm, and they’d say psychological, it wouldn’t, nothing would surprise me anymore.”
“I feel that as a mental health patient that we get treated unfairly, is that mud sticks and once you’re diagnosed with a mental health condition that’s it, mud sticks.”
There were also some structural aspects of the health care system that people found unhelpful; long waiting lists, having too little time in the clinic, not being able to see the same doctor at every clinic, or lacking in appropriate services in their particular area.

Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated December 2013.


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