Objectives: This study estimated the rates of mental health service provision and of specialist referral in primary care in Canada and investigated factors associated with receiving mental health services and with referral to mental health specialists among persons who reported major depressive episodes.
Method: S: Data from the 1998-1999 Canadian National Population Health Survey were used. The 608 respondents who reported having major depressive episodes in the 12 months preceding the survey and who reported contacting a general practitioner or family doctor during that time were included in the study. The rates of provision of mental health services by general practitioners and family doctors and of referral to mental health specialists were calculated. Demographic, socioeconomic, and clinical characteristics associated with receiving mental health services and with referral to specialists were investigated.
Results: Among the 608 respondents who had contacted general practitioners or family doctors for any reason, 153 had contacted them for emotional or mental problems. Of this subgroup of 153, 64.5 percent received mental health services either from these practitioners or by referral to specialists, and 26 percent were referred to mental health specialists. Depressed respondents who reported having talked to a general practitioner or family doctor about mental health problems, who reported impairment, and whose depressive symptoms had lasted eight or more weeks were more likely to have received mental health services. Respondents aged 12 to 24 years were more likely to be referred to mental health specialists.
Conclusion: S: Impairment associated with depression and chronicity of depressive symptoms appear to be the primary determinants of the decisions made by general practitioners and family doctors about providing mental health services. Patients' willingness to consult with general practitioners or family doctors for mental health problems may also be a key factor, both for effective management of depression in primary care settings and for referral to mental health specialists.