General Care Practitioners Are Not Mental Health Professionals

General care practitioners (GCP, I’ll refer to it as) aren’t mental health professionals although people, myself included, have visited their GCP for a mental health concern. Fortunately, we’re moving away from this trend as more people are learning and understanding that they should see a mental health care professional to address their concerns. As a society, we’re increasing our awareness on what mental health is, we are discovering the importance of mental healthcare. However, I’m betting that several people still believe that it’s appropriate to go see their GCP for mental health.

Sadly, the people who are likely still reaching out to their GCP is due to issues like there being a greater demand for services and fewer mental health professionals or a person who lives in a rural community who chooses to ask their GCP to take a look at them verse driving an hour plus to see a mental health counselor, whom they’ve never met before, so they’re not as comfortable with that option. There are valid reasons to why someone might still choose to see their GCP.

As the mental health field gradually changes and we continue to address the areas mentioned above, it’s still critical to note that GCPs are not the best option for mental healthcare, even though they seem like an option. There are several problems to understand with this. GCPs only have a few minutes to meet with each client, which is not enough time to diagnose or treat a mental health issue. Their educational background is not mental health-based. If a GCP were to return to school to receive the education of a psychiatrist, for example, they could be in school for another five to six years. When someone goes to see a GCP for their mental health, they’re simply not getting the right care.

At the beginning of the article, I disclosed that I have seen my general care doctor for a mental health concern. I was in my early 20’s, an undergraduate school student who was studying psychology. College students are under a lot of stress and face big post-graduate decisions which can cause anxiety. I was dealing with anxiety. At the time, I didn’t know that I should go to a mental health counselor. This wasn’t something talked about. Even though I was a psychology student, it’s not like anyone on campus was talking about mental health. There was seemingly no awareness. Over 10 years later, our society is finally pushing out more mental health information and people are going to see mental health professionals. Thank goodness.

A younger professional me

I went to my general care doctor about the anxiety. I wanted it fixed because it was to the point that, at times, was crippling. I was having difficulty functioning. My doctor, whom I go to when I get strep throat, prescribed me Celexa, which helps with depression and anxiety. For the next month, I took it as prescribed. My symptoms increased and became much worse. It was terrifying. The scariest part was that I began having suicidal ideation. I knew that I was supposed to wean off of the medication, but I was so scared that I quit fully, abruptly. Please, follow instructions. Fortunatly, I didn’t experience any negative effects when I stopped taking Celexa right away.

I didn’t return to my doctor because I didn’t like how the medication made me feel and I realized that I was doing  better without it. I did gain a bit of insight from this experience, learning that the medication itself or the dose might not have been right. I learned about the potential side-effects and possibility that particular ones may worsen, which wasn’t verbally reviewed with me by my doctor. I learned that I could manage the anxiety without medication. My doctor didn’t mention going to a mental health professional.

GCPs aren’t mental health professionals and people should use great caution if they visit them to address a mental health concern. Mental health takes a longer amount of time to assess and treat than the few minutes that a GCP has. A GCP needs a mental health-based education and resources in order to appropriately treat it. When someone is placed on a medication to support their mental health, it’s important that they keep an eye out for side-effects and visit a psychiatrist for medication management. Let’s continue our movement of raising awareness of mental health and emphasizing the importance of reaching out to mental health professionals.

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