A recent survey of more than 1,100 general practitioners has found that 2 in every 3 respondents see more patients for mental health issues (including depression, mood disorders and anxiety) than for any other health issues.
The next most common concerns treated by GPs are musculoskeletal complaints and respiratory problems, such as the common cold and asthma.
The survey was part of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners' (RACGP's) Health of The Nation Report.
Should your GP be your first stop for mental health?
Yes. There are a few good reasons why more people are seeing a doctor about their mental health.
"Organisations like ours are recommending people concerned about their mental health start out by visiting their GP," says Elizabeth Priestley, CEO of WayAhead, the Mental Health Association in NSW. "Secondly, people are more open to seeking help for their mental health concerns rather than keeping it to themselves because of associated stigma.
"The GP is a good first port of call. If you have your own GP, they know your medical history and this can be an advantage in considering treatment options," says Ms Priestley.
"They can also put in place a mental health plan if that is necessary. If you don't have a GP you are comfortable with, ask other people for suggestions on a good GP."
Other sources of help for mental health
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health. It's important to find the health professional or support service that suits you.
You can access a psychologist, for example, without a GP's referral. However, you'll need a mental health care plan from a GP to claim rebates through Medicare or to access the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners initiative. This initiative gives you access to 10 free mental-health appointments per year if you have a mental health disorder.
You also need a GP referral to claim rebates (or the Better Access initiative) for an accredited mental health social worker or an occupational therapist working in mental health.
There are free online counselling services and helplines available, as well (see 'For immediate help and support' below).
Check out healthdirect's guide to finding the most appropriate help for mental health here.
Not sure whether you need help? Try the Black Dog Institute Online Clinic questionnaire, a free and confidential health assessment tool. It's designed for anyone over 18 who is worried they are developing a mental health problem, or who wants to get a better understanding of their own mental health.
You'll receive a personalised report with suggested support services and free (or low-cost) resources. It can be downloaded, printed or emailed to share with your family or doctor.
Helping friends and family members with mental health concerns
The theme for Mental Health Month (October) is 'Share the journey'. Nearly half of Australians will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime but some will also experience stigma and isolation.
Support from friends, family and health professionals can significantly help a loved one's coping and recovery process. Small gestures such as listening, keeping in touch and showing you care make a big difference.
Use Mental Health Month as an opportunity to reach out to loved ones who might be struggling. Follow these tips from WayAhead NSW, particularly if the person is reluctant to receive help:
- Find a suitable time to discuss your concerns with the person and let them know you are on their side.
- Talk sensitively to the person about the change in behaviours you have noticed (try to avoid blame or accusations).
- Try to be as understanding as possible when it comes to how the person may feel about accessing support.
- Offer to go to a GP with the person as a starting point.
- Educate yourself about mental illness and the type of professionals who can help.
- Develop a plan on how you would respond if the person's behaviour escalates to the point where they are a danger to themselves or someone else.
For immediate help and support
- If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call triple zero (000).
- Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or access the Crisis Support Chat between 7pm and 12am (AEDT).
- Call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 to speak with a trained mental health professional 24 hours a day. You can also chat online between 3pm and 12am, 7 days a week.
- The Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467) provides professional telephone and online counselling to people affected by suicide.
- Kids Helpline (1800 551800) offers free and confidential phone and online counselling to young people aged 5 to 25.
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