Psychology Melbourne Blog

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GPs need educating on attitudes to mental health

Edited by Jill Wright,

When you consider that access to Medicare rebates for mental health treatment depends on a referral from a GP, the fact that - according to an article in Medical Observer - some of them hold unhelpful attitudes to people with mental illness is a little disturbing.

If a medical professional happens to hold prejudices that lead him to view people suffering from say, depression or early or chronic schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or social phobia as “weak not sick” and “dangerous/unpredictable” it seems reasonable to wonder what sort of response they might have to someone seeking a referral for treatment. Could they, perhaps, deny them the referral?

I talk to a lot of GPs in the course of my work with Psychology Melbourne, and by far the vast majority of them are highly supportive of their patients who have mental health problems. They are generally keen to hear about the latest advances in the profession, the opportunity for different treatment options, our classes, and the steps we take to enhance treatment outcomes.

But researchers from the University of Melbourne who  surveyed 518 GPs, 506 psychiatrists and 498 clinical psychologists by post, as well as 6019 members of the general public by phone, turned up some disturbing trends.

They found that GPs - and even more worrying - psychiatrists, particularly those who were female or older, were just as likely as the general community to want to keep their distance from patients reporting mental health issues.

“GPs are more likely to hold personally stigmatising attitudes and to desire social distance than psychologists and psychiatrists, pointing to the need to address such beliefs among GPs," according to the authors of the report.  

They suggest that the work pressures on GPs, and a lack of adequate training in mental health contribute to these attitudes, and suggest an education program might be necessary.

About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.