General News Research — 17 August 2012

Education and support for GPs in management of depression can lead to improved outcomes for older patients, an Australian study shows.

The odds of clinically significant depression or self-harm behaviour in older adults dropped by 10% after GPs received targeted education which possibly lead to them being more empathetic, researchers said.

More than 370 GPs throughout Australia recruited nearly 22,000 patients aged over 60 years for the study, designed to determine the effects of a GP-targeted educational intervention on the prevalence of depression and suicidal ideation in later life.

Up to 10% of people in this age group experience clinical depression and, while fewer older people are inclined to suicidal thoughts, lethality increases with age, the researchers stated.

Those GPs in the active group received additional educational material to improve their knowledge about the signs and treatments available for depression and suicidal thoughts.

At two years follow-up it was found that educational intervention reduced the prevalence of a composite measure of self-harm or depression in patients of active group GPs by between 3–17%, although there was no decrease in the actual prevalence. In addition, there was no increase in prescription of antidepressants or referrals to mental health services, the report found.

Professor Osvaldo Almeida, head of research at the University of WA’s Centre for Health and Ageing, said that while GPs received sufficient training on mental health issues, changes in practice were often not sustained over time.

“A reduction of 10% is relatively small reduction of risk but it is nevertheless important in terms of the population,” Professor Almeida said.

“It shows that when GPs approach mental health in a structured and systematic way, rather than ad hoc, the outcomes are better.

“By knowing how to address the issues it’s easier for GPs to listen more sympathetically and understand the patient better and this in itself might have a therapeutic effect.”

As first appeared in Medical Observer. Source: Annals of Family Medicine 2012; 10:347-356

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