MARK COLVIN: The peak body representing psychiatrists is concerned that baby boomers are lagging behind younger generations in their understanding of mental health. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists says baby boomers are more likely to rely on their GPs when experiencing mental illness, rather than a specialist. But GPs are defending their role.
Thomas Oriti reports.
THOMAS ORITI: The College of Psychiatrists says a knowledge gap is putting baby boomers’ mental health at risk.
MALCOLM HOPWOOD: There’s a lot of misunderstanding in the Australian community at large about the roles of different mental health professionals, and we found that this was particularly so in older Australians.
THOMAS ORITI: Professor Mal Hopwood is the president-elect of the College. He’s expressed concern after a community survey of 1,000 Australians aged 18 and over.
THOMAS ORITI: According to the survey, baby boomers are twice more likely than 18 to 24 year olds to seek advice from their GP rather than any mental health professional.
Professor Hopwood says it comes down to education.
MALCOLM HOPWOOD: Younger people have been exposed to a range of sources of information about mental health and what mental health professionals do, whereas perhaps for older people, they grew up at a time when discussing mental health was not the thing to do.
THOMAS ORITI: Professor of Youth Mental Health, Patrick McGorry, says young people might have a greater understanding of mental health issues but he’s not convinced they’re getting the help they need.
PATRICK MCGORRY: Middle aged and older people have got much better access than younger people, so the facts in terms of access point in the other direction, which is why of course programs like Headspace which are really tackling the access issue very well for young people have been established.
THOMAS ORITI: Associate Professor Michael Baigent is a psychiatrist on the board of Beyond Blue.
MICHAEL BAIGENT: A younger person’s more open to accepting a diversity of interventions that can be helpful for them, from psychological and social through to biological interventions as well.
THOMAS ORITI: The College of Psychiatrists says GPs provide excellent primary care but they’re not mental health specialists.
Mal Hopwood says immediate expert assistance is crucial, particularly if someone is considering self-harm, and he says the trend puts additional pressure on GPs as well as hospitals.
MALCOLM HOPWOOD: If we look at the literature coming from emergency departments of hospitals, we know there are a lot of presentations with mental health problems.
THOMAS ORITI: Associate Professor Michael Baigent.
MICHAEL BAIGENT: I often think if only we’d be able to intervene a bit earlier in this person’s situation, if the person had identified the symptoms earlier, we might be avoiding them presenting to the ED department in such a sort of dangerous presentation.
THOMAS ORITI: The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners says it’s not that easy to simply refer a patient to a mental health specialist.
Dr Liz Marles is the president of the college.
LIZ MARLES: Getting patients into psychiatrists is incredibly difficult. They are not available across the country; they are mostly in capital cities.
THOMAS ORITI: Professor Patrick McGorry says the survey shows that times have changed.
PATRICK MCGORRY: GPs, especially for middle aged and older people, are the point of access for mental health care, just like they are for every other type of care and there’s been a lot of work done by GPs and with GPs over the last 10 years
or so to make that more accessible and increase the skills of GPs.
THOMAS ORITI: Doctor Liz Marles says general practitioners are well trained.
LIZ MARLES: General practice covers the whole person, including the psychological and social aspects and mental health is a core part of our curriculum.
MARK COLVIN: The president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Doctor Liz Marles, ending that report from Thomas Oriti.
Audio available here.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC‘ on 16 April 2014.