Finding a Mental Health Savvy GP

Graeme CowanUncategorized

In research undertaken for my book BACK FROM THE BRINK TOO, people who had been through a severe bout of depression told me that if they had their time over, they would seek expert help much earlier. How do you access that expertise?

Alarmingly, during a doctor’s initial six year university education, most institutions devote miniscule coverage to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. However, the research firm Ultrafeedback surveyed 2434 Australians, and found that 26% of those surveyed had discussed depression with their GP in the last 12 months (second only to back pain with 33%).

To be fair, GP’s have a huge number of specialty areas to cover and many choose to focus solely on physical health. If you are really struggling emotionally it is quickly evident how important it is to have a well-trained GP with a caring manner. A good GP can be a lynch pin – integrating care involving other specialists such as psychologists and psychiatrists. Understanding a GP’s Qualifications

There are GPs that are interested in mental health and study much more about it after graduation. There are some special Medicare item numbers related to mental health which all GPs can use and another set which are only available to GPs who have undertaken a certain amount of extra training. The most that is required of a GP to be accredited by Medicare to claim Mental Health item numbers is 20 hours of specific training. This may be all the training your GP has had or they may have had much more.

A body called the GPMHSC accredits GPs for the special mental health item numbers. Six hours accredited training gives a GP a “Level 1” qualification. An additional 20 hours training provides a “Level 2” qualification. These levels of qualification allow a GP to claim or charge the special mental health item numbers. Most GPs do not display these qualifications but you can ask the GP or the reception staff whether the GP has Level 1 or Level 2 mental health accreditation. They should know the answer because of the item numbers they claim or charge. Sources for finding a good GP

1. *Family and friends – *If you have a loved one who has had a positive experience interacting with a GP about depression or anxiety, ask them about the experience to see if the doctor might be right for you.

2. *Postcode search on beyondblue website –* On the home page of there is a facility that allows you to enter your postcode. This will allow you to access a list of GPs and psychologists in your area that have a special interest in mood disorders.

3. *Call your local General Practice Division -* The Australian General Practice Network (AGPN) is the peak national body representing 111 general practice networks and eight state based organisations around the country. Go to and identify your local division. Call and ask which local GPs have completed further studies in mental health. Preparing for a mental health discussion

These suggestions are designed to maximize the probability of an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. This will also allow the GP to determine if they are able to meet all your care needs or whether additional assistance may be required from a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Consider taking a loved one with you to assist in getting the most out of the visit.

1. Advise the receptionist that you would like to book a “long consultation” to discuss a mental health issue. If they don’t do this, it is unlikely that the practice is the right one for you.

2. Prepare to describe as succinctly as possible what symptoms you have been experiencing and for how long, the level of your disability as it impacts your home and work life, any triggers such as stressful events, the level of emotional support you have access to, family history of depression, and whether you are attempting to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Assessing the visit

Ask yourself:

1. Did the GP seem to care?

2. Did they ask the right questions to understand my situation?

3. Did they propose a preliminary diagnosis and outline a holistic treatment plan that you have confidence in?

If you can’t answer yes to all three questions, it would be advisable to explore other options. A more rigorous diagnosis Mood Assessment Program (MAP) – The Black Dog Institute has developed MAP as a tool to help GP’s and psychologists make more accurate mental health diagnoses. It incorporates nearly a quarter of a century of sophisticated clinical expertise in assessment, diagnosis and management planning for people with mood disorders (both depressive and bipolar disorders). Your GP or psychologist must be a registered MAP user and can then provide you with a unique access code to complete an online assessment. Your doctor will receive the report to discuss with you at the next visit. There is no charge for MAP. See<>