Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

What problems can a GP help with?

Here, people talk about the following topics:

•    what can a GP help with? 
•    physical health problems
•    mental and emotional health problems
•    raising awareness of the GP’s role

What can a GP help with?
GPs deal with a broad range of physical, mental and emotional problems. As well as finding out what’s causing a person’s symptoms and treating them, they provide health education, offer advice on smoking, diet, sexual health and contraception, give vaccinations (injections), and may carry out simple surgery. In some cases the GP may need to refer (pass on) the patient to a hospital or another healthcare service (for example, physiotherapy, podiatry or counselling) for tests, treatment, or to see someone with specialist knowledge.
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GPs usually work in practices (surgeries or health centres) as part of a team, which includes nurses, healthcare assistants, practice managers, receptionists and other staff. Practices also work closely with other health professionals, such as midwives, health visitors, mental health services and social care services.

Physical health problems
Young people went to see the GP for all sorts of reasons. The doctor was often the first person they saw if they had a health problem that they were worried about. Examples of minor health problems include ear, eye or chest infections, rashes and other skin conditions, periods, and ongoing pain. Simon, Emma, Caitlin and Jalé were living with long-term health problems so saw the doctor whenever they were worried about these. Long-term health problems include asthma, diabetes and arthritis. Other people went to the GP surgery about sexual health, whether that was for contraception, cervical screening or STI tests (tests for sexually transmitted infections).
Mental and emotional health problems
Very few of the people we talked to knew that they could speak to the GP about mental and emotional health problems. These include ongoing stress, feeling low, depression and anxiety, and emotional problems at school such as bullying or exam stress.


Lara and Paula thought that GPs only helped with physical problems, and Kyle and Simon said they were more likely to speak to friends than the GP about emotional issues.
Simon lives with two long-term conditions – juvenile arthritis and Crohns’ disease, (a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system or gut). Although it can be stressful living with these conditions as a young person, he’d never spoken to his GP about ‘the psychological side’. He felt that doctors should ask young people with long-term health problems how they’re feeling emotionally as well as physically.
Ambeya, who cares for her mum, would have liked to talk to a GP about stress but rarely saw the same doctor twice. It can be hard to open up to a GP about mental health and then have to repeat it all to another doctor at the next appointment. Ambeya felt that mental health is one of the biggest concerns that young people have.
Hazzan said that depression should be seen as ‘actual proper illnesses’ – this way more people would know they could talk about mental illness with their doctor. 

It was only when Vinay went to university to study psychology that he learnt that patients could speak to the GP about mental as well as physical health. But he felt that GPs were perhaps not the best professionals to talk to. He would prefer talking to a counsellor and did eventually speak to the mental health advisor at university:
Susan, a medical student, knew she could talk to a GP about mental health. When she had problems herself, though, she was uncomfortable because she ‘didn’t want another healthcare professional to see me being like that’. She also worried about having to see different GPs about the same problem.
A GP is one of several professionals that people can talk to if they’re worried about their mental or emotional health. If appropriate, the doctor will refer the person for counselling. Young people can also speak to school counsellors, university counsellors, or look online for support. Siobhan and Sophie also recommended phoning or texting the Samaritans.    

Raising awareness of the GP’s role
Like many young people, Ambeya felt that there should be more information about GPs being able to help with mental health problems, and that this should be made available in schools. Nikki also felt that mental health education should be taught in schools and included in the National Curriculum. When she needed help at a young age, she had ‘no idea’ she could speak to the GP. When she did finally go to the doctors’, she felt that the first few GPs she saw were unhelpful but she later found one that she liked.
For Hazzan there were various ways of raising awareness that GPs deal with mental as well as physical health, including posters in schools and talks in school assemblies. For others, having this information on social media sites was seen as a good way of letting young people know.
A few people felt that it would be helpful to have posters and leaflets in doctors’ surgeries. Louis, for example, said that a leaflet given to young people after a consultation (appointment) would be useful. Even if someone didn’t need it at that time, it could come in handy in the future. 

When asked about the issues that most young people are concerned about, Paula said ‘anxiety and stress and dealing with school and friendships’. Tagbo mentioned sex, drugs and alcohol as major concerns and Louis talked about exam stress, depression, and drug abuse. Ongoing anxiety caused by bullying was another worry that Nikki and Auberon felt people rarely discussed with the GP.


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Please note that we are unable to accept article submissions or offer medical advice. If you are affected by any of the issues covered on this website and need to talk to someone in confidence, please contact The Samaritans or your Doctor.

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