GPs' role in the detection of psychological problems of young people: a population-based study

Br J Gen Pract. 2009 Sep;59(566):e308-14. doi: 10.3399/bjgp09X454115.


Background: Among young people, about one in three females and one in five males report experiencing emotional distress but 65-95% of them do not receive help from health professionals.

Aim: To assess the differences among young people who seek help and those who do not seek help for their psychological problems, considering the frequency of consultations to their GP and their social resources.

Design of study: School survey.

Setting: Post-mandatory school.

Method: Among a Swiss national representative sample of 7429 students and apprentices (45.6% females) aged 16-20 years, 1931 young people reported needing help for a problem of depression/sadness (26%) and were included in the study. They were divided into those who sought help (n = 256) and those who did not (n = 1675), and differences between them were assessed.

Results: Only 13% of young people needing help for psychological problems consulted for that reason and this rate was positively associated with the frequency of consultations to the GP. However, 80% of young people who did not consult for psychological problems visited their GP at least once during the previous year. Being older or a student, having a higher depression score, or a history of suicide attempt were linked with a higher rate of help seeking. Moreover, confiding in adults positively influenced the rate of help seeking.

Conclusion: The large majority of young people reporting psychological problems do not seek help, although they regularly consult their GP. While young people have difficulties in tackling issues about mental health, GPs could improve the situation by systematically inquiring about this issue.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health Services
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physician's Role*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Switzerland / epidemiology
  • Young Adult