Large numbers of older Australians would rather go to their GP than a psychiatrist to deal with debilitating mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
A new survey by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists found Australians above the age of 45 were highly unlikely to go to a psychiatrist to seek help with their mental health.
Around 1000 Australians were interviewed for the survey, the results of which were released on Wednesday by the college.
They found more than 60 per cent of people aged 45 plus said they would go to their GP before a mental health professional if they were suffering depression.
Comparatively, the majority of young people aged 18-24 were likely to go to a psychologist or a psychiatrist if they were suffering from anxiety or severe depression.
There were also striking differences between how Australians dealt with suicidal thoughts, with less than 15 per cent of people aged 45+ saying they would go to a psychiatrist. The majority said they would go to the emergency department at a hospital.
RANZCP president Dr Murray Patton said the survey confirmed their concerns about misconceptions in society about the role of mental health professionals.
”We did have suspicions that there was a misunderstanding of some sort,” he said.
”If you have conversations with many people about what we find in the survey, it is often reflected in those discussions.”
The survey also showed few Australians knew they could claim a Medicare rebate for seeing a psychiatrist or the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.
Dr Patton said while the number of young people with a good knowledge of mental health services was encouraging, overall the results showed some conditions could end up going untreated.
He said the next step was now to work out how to properly inform the public about mental health services in their community.
”Getting the information out to the public through the media is important. We also need to think ourselves about what other strategies we might need to implement to help people understand the differences,” he said.
This article first appeared on ‘Canberra Times’ on 16 April 2014.