Preparing for your first appointment
Taking the first step to speak to a health professional about your mental health can be daunting. It’s natural to feel concerned or uncomfortable. Knowing what to expect and what to ask can help you feel confident and ensure you get what you need from your appointment.
You may have chosen to visit your health professional in person, or talk to them over the phone, or chat with them online. In your first appointment, they’ll talk with you about what’s going on and work out what might help you.
The biggest hurdle for most people is knowing how to tell your story. Where do you start?
Sharing your experience
A health professional will often begin by asking you what is happening in your life right now and why you wanted to see them.
Their questions may be challenging or confronting. They could be about your relationships, your views about yourself, the world, and the future. They may include some topics that are hard to talk about like drug and alcohol use, self-harm, past trauma, and suicidal thoughts or behaviour. Their role is to help you understand what you’re experiencing and why. You don’t need to share any information you don’t want to.
Is the information you share confidential?
In most cases, yes. An exception may be if you or someone else are at risk of harm. A health professional may need to share information to keep people safe, or due to Court or legal requirements. Even then, they will usually work with you to determine how they share that information.
Before your appointment
One thing you can do to help tell your story is to think about any changes you have noticed in your life. These could be social, emotional, or physical changes. They could also be changes in your behaviour, relationships, or living circumstances. They may have happened suddenly, or over time.
Helpful questions to ask yourself
- Have there been any stressful things happening in my life? (Events such as moving house, losing a loved one, changing jobs, and relationship difficulties can all affect wellbeing.)
- Have I noticed changes in my mood or emotions? Or my thoughts, temper, sleep, appetite, exercise, or relationships?
- Has something changed in the way I see myself, the world, or the future?
- How have the changes affected my life? (It could be something like your work, relationships, or physical health.)
You can write down the answers to these questions to discuss during your appointment.
You may also wish to take the Head to Health quiz before speaking to a health professional. The quiz uses questions that they will be familiar with for conditions such as anxiety and depression. Sharing your results may give them more insight into your experience.
Getting the most out of your appointment
Your first appointment is usually about working together to understand your situation and planning next steps that may work for you. It is a conversation where you should ask questions and get the information you need. Keep these key factors in mind:
The length of the appointment will vary depending on the service.
If you are going to a GP to talk about your wellbeing for the first time, book a longer appointment so that you don’t need to rush. You can also tell them you want to develop a mental health treatment plan. This will help them ensure you have enough time in your booking.
If you’re seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist, your appointments will likely take about an hour. Your first appointment may be a little longer, up to 90 minutes. You can check how long the appointment will be when you book.
You can take notes about anything the health professional says or recommends; don’t rely on memory. You can also ask them to write key things down for you or print out useful information.
Some questions you could ask are:
- What are my options, and how might each option help me?
- What are the costs?
- How long will the process take?
- Can you recommend resources I can use at home to improve my mental health?
- Do you have more information I can read?
- How do you protect my privacy and confidentiality?
- How do you communicate with other health professionals involved in my care?
Writing down what you would like to know from the health professional before the appointment will help to make sure you come away with the information you need.
Remember, it’s important to find health professionals you can connect with and trust. You should feel comfortable talking about any challenges with them, no matter how small. If you don’t feel comfortable, consider looking for a better fit.
Take it one step at a time.
What to bring with you
As well as your notes on your experiences and information you’d like to know, there may be some other helpful things to have with you for the appointment.
First, be sure to have your Medicare or insurance details on hand. Many providers will need this information, especially if the service is not free.
You may also wish to take along:
- a printout of your Head to Health quiz results
- notes for any medical conditions you know about and any medication or supplements you are taking
- someone you trust, if it helps you feel more comfortable and confident. They can also help you keep track of everything you wanted to share, and to remember the health professional’s advice.