What Role Do GPs Play in the UK Mental Health Crisis?

The 13th—19th May is Mental Health Awareness Week: an annual campaign organised by the Mental Health Foundation to raise awareness of mental health problems. This event is an ideal opportunity to discuss what GPs can do to help alleviate the mental health crisis in the UK.

The mental health crisis in the UK

One in four adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem every year, making it a major issue in the UK. The mental health crisis isn’t limited just to adults either: one in 10 children and young people are affected too. According to recent research, mental health provision for children and adolescents in the UK is amongst the poorest in Europe.

Furthermore, 66% of GPs say they have seen an increase in the number of patients requiring help with mental health issues, and 40% of their appointments now involve discussions of mental health in some way.

How can GPs support patients with mental health issues?

For many people who are experiencing mental health problems, GPs are the first port of call. Studies show that 81% of people first access mental health services via their GP, and a further 90% of patients are treated for their mental health problem solely within primary care services.

GPs clearly play a crucial role in helping people get the mental health treatment they need. There are various ways you can support patients who need help with their mental health. These include:

  • Asking your patient questions about their symptoms, triggers, medical history and lifestyle to understand what they are going through and what support would be the most suitable
  • Suggesting medication, if appropriate, and informing your patient of the risks and benefits of taking it
  • Referring patients to a therapy session or a specialist
  • Recommending simple and practical lifestyle changes that can improve mental health, like exercising or eating more healthily
  • Book a follow-up with your patient a few weeks after their initial appointment to see how they are doing

Some areas of primary care mental health services could be improved to help more patients. For example, recent research by the Centre for Mental Health suggests that GPs would be better equipped to treat patients with mental health problems if they were:

  • Provided with effective ongoing training in mental health care
  • Given the capacity to offer patients longer appointments and continuity of care
  • Able to access emotional support for themselves when treating patients with mental health problems

What about the mental health of GPs?

It’s a common myth that GPs are immune to illness, especially when it comes to their mental health. But mental health issues can affect anybody—GPs included.

A recent survey of over 1,000 GPs working in England and Wales found that 40% of GPs have experienced a mental health problem like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress. Furthermore, an average of more than three GPs contacted the GP Health Service—a service designed for GPs seeking help with their mental health—every day in the first 10 months after its launch.

The mental health crisis in the UK affects everybody, and the mental wellbeing of GPs should be just as much a priority as that of their patients.

Could out-of-hours working help ease the mental health crisis?

Out-of-hours clinics could benefit both patients and GPs that are experiencing mental health problems.

Patients often need mental health appointments outside of regular GP practice hours. Out-of-hours services can offer greater flexibility in terms of getting seen by their GP, allowing them to access the help they need more quickly.

For GPs concerned about their own mental health, out of hours working can offer several benefits such as flexible working patterns, preventing burnout and having greater autonomy over their workload.

Working out-of-hours with EBPCOOH

If you’d like to find out more about how working out-of-hours could benefit the mental health of both you and your patients, please check out our recruitment page for details on the latest vacancies. You can also read more about out-of-hours working on our blog, along with other healthcare-related news.