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Mentally ill increasingly turning to GPs for help

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More anxious and depressed patients are turning up in GP waiting rooms as the family doctor increasingly becomes the first port of call for Australians with mental health problems.

More one out of every 10 patients seen by a GP are there because of mental health issues, according to the Australian Health and Welfare in a report that sheds light on the treatment of depression, anxiety and other psychological problems in the community.

The report, Mental health services in Australia, shows that almost 16 million visits to the GP in 2012-13 were because of mental health problems – 12.3 per cent of all GP encounters.

By far and away, the most common complaint encountered by GPs was depression, the AIHW reported, accounting for almost a third of all consultations for mental health issues, while anxiety (16 per cent) was the second-most frequently managed issue, followed by sleep disturbance (12 per cent).

The Institute said that Australians were increasingly likely to turn to their GP for help with mental health problems – the proportion of visits to the family doctor for such concerns has been growing at an average annual rate of 4.7 per cent since 2008-09.

By comparison, psychologists provided 3.7 million MBS-subsidised mental health services to almost 806,000 patients in 2012-13, while psychiatrists provided 2.1 million services to around 323,000 patients.

Underlining the importance of medication in treating mental health problems, the AIHW reported that drugs were the most common form of treatment prescribed by GPs, particularly antibiotics.