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It's trial and error for mental health patients, say GPs

To mark World Mental Health Day, we’ve commissioned new research* to see how GPs - often the first port of call for people looking for help with mental health - feel about their role.

Through interviews with 100 UK-based GPs, we found that only 60% feel equipped to provide personalised treatments that can provide tangible benefits to a patient’s quality of life.

We also found that 8 out of 10 GPs think it’s a process of trial and error to find a mental health treatment that works for patients. This means it takes time to see improvements, potentially causing delays in effective treatment for 16 million people in the UK every year.

Commenting on the findings, our chief executive, Lindsey Bennister said:  

 “Right now, GPs have an incredibly difficult job when helping someone with a mental illness, because there is not enough information to make a clear choice of treatment for each individual. Without a solid foundation of research GPs are using a currently limited understanding of diagnosis and treatments. This often means individuals are recommended support which often ends up being on a trial and error basis.”

Key concerns amongst GPs included the variable effectiveness of mental health treatments, with 68% saying it differs from patient to patient. 53% of GPs said that it can be difficult to diagnose specific mental health conditions because symptoms can be similar.

Almost half of GPs (40%), who for many patients are the only health professional they will see, said that having the conversation around mental health conditions is hard, with 49% stating it can be difficult to not have all the answers regarding mental health conditions.

Ann John, MQ researcher and Professor of Public Health and Psychiatry at Swansea University Medical School and a former GP said:

“As mental health awareness has grown, more and more people are recognising they may have a problem and are going to their GP looking for help. This survey tells us that GP’s do not always feel equipped to have these conversations, make a diagnosis or choose the right mix of treatments that work for a patient with mental health problems. Even when they do it takes time and trial and error, prolonging the road to recovery.  It’s important we improve this-both for GPs’ and patients.

We need to focus on mental health training and educational materials for GP’s and continue to improve access to psychological therapies and psychiatrists when required. Research focussed on common mental disorders treated by GPs will help us understand what works, for whom and why”.

* interviewed 100 UK based practicing GPs online between 15th and 18th September 2018. GPs were selected randomly from a pre-recruited specialist market research panel. Visit for more details.

Last updated: 9 October 2018

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