Mental health in The Netherlands

When living abroad, one of the many difficult things you have to deal with is getting sick or having to seek medical help for any other kind of non-physical issue. A couple of weeks ago I attended a seminar organized by SGE International to explain to the international community how the Mental Health Care works in the Netherlands, and here is what I found out.

You should know and bear very close to your heart that, in spite of your issue being ‘psychological’ –say it is emotional, stress-related, difficult to adapt to the new environment, insomnia, anxiety, etc- you are supposed to go to your GP (huisarts) first.

You see, most internationals would probably think of the psychologist, if not a psychiatrist as the go-to person in case of emotional distress of any kind; but here in the Netherlands the national procedure calls you to go to your GP to discuss the issue at hand, to then get a referral to the Nurse Practitioner to help you to better deal with whatever is bothering you or making you feel out of balance.

The reason for this is as follows –as explained in the meeting-: in the Netherlands your GP is supposed to know you –and your family- since you were born and therefore clearly knows whether or not your issue requires further intervention or can be dealt with between you and the GP. This GP-patient relationship assumes a vote for both, open communication and trust that goes both ways.

Now, let us assume –for the sake of the argument- you have this open and trustable relationship with your GP and have no problem talking things through. While talking, you both can conclude seeing a Psycho-Social Nurse Practitioner for further care is needed or preferable. He/she is the next step for more specialist help and together you will make an inventory of your mental health situation and talk about what is needed.

During the talk, SGE-I’s nurse practitioner told us about her 30+ years of experience with diverse mental health issues and also shared with us her basic procedure, basically consisting of two interviews in which she would develop a plan along with you to improve your well-being and, when required or determined necessary, she would transfer you to SGE-I’s psychologist.

To conclude the talk, the psychologist came forward to explain the kind of issues she usually deals with and told us to beware of the waiting list that could occur when in need of support. She also said that according to the law this waiting time must be published in every psychologist’s website (in case of private practice).

To sum up, the meeting was both instructive and helpful, for not all of us were aware of the procedure, nor we knew the best person to go to was the GP even when it is not a matter of physical health.

I now want you to ask yourself if the GP you have today, would be your go-to person if you were in need. I mean, do you trust your huisarts and feel comfortable talking to him/her about your feelings? I certainly didn’t with my two previous GP’s; but right now I can openly say that I feel much better under the care of SGE International since I got registered there for many different, both small and big reasons.

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