General News Research — 03 October 2012

General practice patients say they would be uncomfortable sharing a waiting room with a person with a mental illness, Australian research has found.

A survey of 1134 patients at 15 practices in NSW found 29.7% would be uncomfortable sharing a waiting room with a patient with schizophrenia and 12.2% with those who had severe depression/anxiety.

Ten per cent said they would be moderately or highly likely to change to another practice if the current one provided specialised care for mentally ill patients.

“The level of potentially stigmatising attitudes to mental illness implicit in our findings is of concern,” commented the authors, from the University of Newcastle, the Hunter New England Area Health Service and the Hunter Medical Research Institute.

“Not only the extent of these stigmatising attitudes but also the fact that they are set in the context of general practice is relevant. General practice is the environment where most medical care for mental illness is sought.”

Only 29.9% and 48.8% respectively agreed general practice was an appropriate location for the treatment of schizophrenia or severe depression/anxiety.

The authors said this was a surprising finding given that 12.4% of Australian general practice consultations include a psychological problem.

The average age of respondents was 52.7 years and 69.7% were female. Only 3.5% reported ever having had a disturbing or unsettling experience related to the mental illness of another patient in a GP waiting room.

The authors said the finding that 10% would consider changing surgeries could be seen as a disincentive to providing specialised care. They said GPs may be concerned this could have financial implications for their practice.

However, they added that any such effect could be attenuated by attracting more patients with mental illness. They also said it was uncertain to what extent patients would be aware of a practice’s or GP’s special interest areas.

Respondents with a personal or family history of mental illness were significantly less likely to say they would consider changing surgeries.

As first appeared in Medical Observer. Source: Family Practice 2012; online 27 Sept

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