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Should general practitioners have to deal with patients' mental health problems?

27 February 2015 - Dr Jan Orman

GPs seem to fall into two groups when it comes to mental health. There’s the group who feel confident and skilled and the group who don’t. The latter group seems to be larger and its members less keen to see patients with mental health problems. Some of that those GPs even think that general practice is not the right place for patients with common mental health problems like depression, anxiety and substance use disorders (the three commonest mental health problems in Australia) to be seen.

Unfortunately for the GPs who don’t want to see them, patients with mental health problems keep walking in the door.

According to the most recent BEACH study more than 12% of general practice consultations are about mental health issues. And still, despite all the improvements in mental health care delivery in the last decade, a third of Australians with mental health problems do not receive any professional support. (Which, it has to be admitted, is better than the 53% not receiving help in 2010 but it is still not good enough)

We think using online resources and treatment programs has the potential to improve patients access to care and mental health outcomes generally.

In recent months we have been asking a lot of GPs about whether or not they use online mental health resources. Interestingly, when we started having these conversations most GPs we spoke to were unaware that e-Mental Health resources existed, let alone that there were online treatment programs for mild to moderate mental health conditions that  are evidence based, Australian developed and free of charge. Hopefully we are now on track to improving that situation.

Dr Jan Orman
Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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