Background: Mental health problems are common in primary care, with prevalence rates of up to 40% reported in developing countries. The study aim was to evaluate the impact of a specially designed toolkit used to train primary health care (PHC) workers in mental health on the rates of diagnosed cases of common mental disorders, malaria and non-specific musculoskeletal pains in primary care in Malawi.
Method: Clinics with out-patient services in the designated district were randomly divided into control and intervention arms. Using a two-phase sampling process, Self-Reporting Questionnaire scores, data on diagnoses made by PHC workers and results of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV for depression were collected from 837 consecutively attending adult patients in the pre-intervention study and 2600 patients in the post-intervention study.
Results: The point prevalence rates for probable common mental disorder and depression were 28.8% and 19%, respectively. Rates for both anxiety and depression diagnoses by PHC workers at baseline were 0% in both arms. Following training, there were significant differences between the two arms in the rates of diagnosed cases of depression [9.2% v. 0.5%, odds ratio (OR) 32.1, 95% confidence interval (CI) 7.4-144.3, p ≤ 0.001], anxiety (1.2% v. 0%, p ≤ 0.001) and malaria (31% v. 40%, OR 0.62, 95% CI 0.43-0.89, p = 0.01). The intervention arm had more cases diagnosed with depression and anxiety while the control arm had more cases diagnosed with malaria.
Conclusions: Training of PHC workers in mental health with an appropriate toolkit will contribute significantly to the quality of detection and management of patients seen in primary care in developing countries.