Background: Most studies showed that patients would first go to their primary care physicians (PCPs) when depressed. This choice is probably due to PCP being the entry point into the health care system. We studied the general population's initial choice of mental care in Hong Kong, where patients were unclear about family medicine and free to choose doctors of any specialty.
Methods: A combined qualitative and quantitative approach was adopted. We held focus groups with participants recruited from community centers and a telephone survey with adults ages 18 or above randomly selected from the domestic telephone directory.
Results: Of 1,647 adults successfully interviewed, 49.0% would seek help from their regular PCP, 19.3% from psychiatrists, 4.8% from any doctors, 16.5% from non-medical resources; 6.9% would not seek any help, and 3.5% were uncertain of what to do. Those who did not seek any help were more likely to be male or without regular doctors. The focus group participants highlighted the stigmatizing effect of consulting psychiatrists and expressed strong expectation of empathic relationship, time, and communication skills from their care providers. Some participants were not aware that PCP could manage mental illness.
Conclusions: Given free choice of health care service, most people would first consult their regular doctors for treatment of depression specifically because of better relationship and no stigmatization. To draw depressed patients to seek help, especially from primary care, public education of the PCPs role in mental health should be promoted, and the PCPs could demonstrate their empathy and listening skills to patients.