Background: GPs are an accessible health care provider for most patients with mental disorders and are gatekeepers to specialist care. The extent to which patients consider their primary care team as relevant to their mental health problems needs to be explored.
Objectives: To explore reasons why patients choose not to disclose psychological problems to GPs, and to discuss the implications for the provision of primary mental health care.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey of consecutive patients attending general practices in New Zealand (part of the MaGPIe study). Patients were screened using the GHQ-12 and a stratified sample participated in a structured in-depth interview to assess their psychological health. Non-disclosure of psychological problems was explored. GPs assessed patients' psychological health using a 5-point scale of severity.
Results: Seventy GPs (90%) and 775 patients (70%) participated. Overall, 29.8% of all patients and 36.9% of patients with current symptoms reported non-disclosure of self-perceived psychological problems. Younger patients, those consulting more frequently and those with greater psychiatric disability were more likely to report non-disclosure. The most frequently given reasons were beliefs that a GP is not the 'right' person to talk to (33.8%) or that mental health problems should not be discussed at all (27.6%).
Conclusions: Interventions such as screening and GP education may be ineffective in improving primary mental health care unless accompanied by educational programmes for the general public to increase mental health literacy, de-stigmatise mental illness and increase awareness of general practice as an appropriate and effective source of health care.