The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging government to help GPs care for patients with mental health issues.
It comes following the release of the latest edition of the Australian Journal of General Practice, which is published by the RACGP.
The December edition* features articles on the psychological consequences of social isolation and quarantine, the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder during the COVID-19 pandemic and the psychiatric impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price said that GPs were the first port of call for people with mental health issues.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a very difficult time for many people, especially in my home state of Victoria,” Dr Price said.
“The papers in the December edition zero in on how people have lost jobs and endured long periods in lockdown separated from their loved ones and not enjoying their usual activities and past times. Added to that has been the stress of caring for children at home while working and the anxiety caused by worrying whether you or someone you love will contract the virus.
“During the pandemic, many patients delayed or avoided consultations with their GP – including for psychological issues.
“There is evidence too that some COVID-19 positive patients are suffering from long-term mental health issues after contracting the virus. The bushfires also had massive impact on the mental health of people in affected communities, including those who had first-hand exposure to trauma and people who lost their homes or workplaces.
“All of this has taken a toll and GPs will be there for patients experiencing mental health issues. 90% of GPs have completed additional mental health skills training and the vast majority of patients are pleased with the care they receive from their GP.
“I encourage anyone who is worried about their mental health to book a consultation with their GP right away.”
Dr Price said that much more could be done by government to help GPs care for patients with mental health issues.
“GPs need a helping hand because the number of patients with mental health concerns is set to sky rocket,” she said.
“We need Medicare subsidies for longer mental health consultations. That will allow us to take the time to talk through what our patients are experiencing and how we can help them – it will make a significant difference.
“We must also reform primary care funding. The majority of mental health care is actually delivered in a GP’s consultation room, so if we boost primary care investment we can better assist people who need mental health care.
“GPs provide care to nearly 90% of Australians, while total government expenditure on general practice services is only around 7.5% of health expenditure.
“Government spending on hospitals increases each year while spending on primary care declines. This must change because GPs provide the long-term care needed to improve the health trajectory of patients in the community, including those with mental health issues.”
Dr Price said that the wellbeing of healthcare workers must also be a priority.
“Healthcare workers have done an extraordinary job helping patients during this pandemic. I urge anyone who has concerns about their own mental health to reach out right away,” she said.
“That includes fellow GPs, some of whom can be reluctant to seek help. All jurisdictions in Australia, except for Western Australia, have mandatory reporting laws in place that can discourage GPs from reaching out.
“We must scrap these rules because they potentially deter GPs from seeking medical care due to the potential consequences of being reported by their treating doctor.”
Numbers to call if you have concerns about your mental health:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636