Treating Health Anxiety – Step 1: Asking for help

This week we’re handing the reins over to our community correspondent Ellen. You might remember her brilliant post a few weeks ago about healthy anxiety and the related struggles. Here, Ellen talks about seeking help for health anxiety and outlines her experience in the hope that it might inspire someone else to do the same thing. Her words are below.

It’s no secret that access to mental health services in this country is not exactly gold standard. Many people can go through an incredibly lengthy process in order to get the therapy they need. However, in an attempt to cut through all the negative news about mental health, I’d like to share a more positive story. I was recently referred for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) for my health anxiety. Although not every experience will be the same, I think it might be helpful to some people to explain how I got to this point, and maybe it’ll help streamline the process for someone else who is looking to tackle their health-related neuroses.

Luckily for us hypochondriacs, one-to-one talking therapy (which can be a little more difficult to get access to) is not necessarily the first port of call. Combatting health anxiety involves changing your thought process; learning how to latch on to irrational thoughts and stop them in their tracks. For this, the best tool is often Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which educates on coping mechanisms and helps to adjust destructive habits. CBT is often done in a group context and, in my case, is entirely virtual.

I was lucky enough to know what mental health issue I was suffering with and the kind of treatment I wanted before I even went to my GP. I have had health anxiety for five years and have done a lot of research on my own. In the end my appointment was only five minutes long. I went in, said “I have health anxiety and I would like to be referred for cognitive behavioural therapy,” and she referred me there and then. This won’t be the same for everyone. For many people, health anxiety feels so real it is difficult to recognise that the fears are actually a manifestation of anxiety and are not simply physiological. It is okay not to know, and if you are struggling but you aren’t sure what the problem is, your GP will refer you to a consultant to figure it out. If, however, you’re like me and you know that health anxiety is the problem, there are a few good ways to speed up the road to therapy. Firstly, know the different routes. In most cases, talking to your GP about getting referred for therapy is the easiest way to get quick access. After I was referred my letter from the Wellbeing Services came the next day. However, if you are struggling to get a GP appointment or doctors make you uncomfortable, there is also the option for self-referral in some cases. Have a look at your local NHS mental health service and see if self-referral is more up your street.

Secondly, in my experience, even though you may be dying to talk to someone at length about how you’re feeling, your GP won’t necessarily be the right person to do that with. GPs don’t usually specialise in treatment of mental health issues and might not be able to give you the emotional support you need. Once you are referred by your GP for therapy, you will have an initial phone consultation with a specialist who will ask you all the right questions and give you the platform you need to talk about your anxieties in depth. This person will then advise you on the types of treatment you are eligible for and what they recommend going forward.

Hopefully recalling my positive experience will encourage someone to ask for help if you’ve been putting it off or give you some ideas about where to look for treatment. The road to recovery will not be the same for everyone, but therapy is one of the greatest tools we have at our disposal. So, don’t wait five years like I did! Ask for help; it’s worth it.

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