'Can he have the test for bipolar, doctor? His dad's got it': exploring the potential of general practitioners to work with children and young people presenting in primary care with common mental health problems - a clinical initiative

Ment Health Fam Med. 2012 Jun;9(2):115-23.


Background General practitioners (GPs) play a key role in assessing and managing adult mental health problems, but this input is not seen in their management of child and adolescent mental health. Mental health problems in 5-19-year-olds are common, yet detection rates in primary care are low. The symptoms of most adult diagnoses of mental health problems are present by mid-adolescence, yet the typical time from onset to diagnosis is 5-15 years. The role of general practice in this area has been underexplored. Aim This pilot study explores the potential of GPs to respond to common mental health problems in children and adolescents. Design Children and young people who would have ordinarily been referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) were seen in a GP setting. In a UK general practice surgery serving a disadvantaged population. Method Children and young people were seen for an initial biopsychosocial assessment and formulation of the presenting concerns. GP-based interventions were offered as appropriate or referred to CAMHS. Results Data from the first 50 children (2-19 years) are presented. Twenty younger children (10 years and under) and 30 older children (11 years and above) were seen. Eighteen referrals were made to CAMHS. GP interventions included watchful waiting, brief behavioural interventions, non-directive counselling, brief cognitive- behavioural therapy (CBT) and liaison with colleagues in education, CAMHS and the voluntary sector. Conclusion This clinical pilot demonstrates that with adequate time, access to supervision and practice support, children and young people experiencing emotional and behavioural problems associated with common mental health issues can be helped in primary care.

Keywords: GP involvement; common child and adolescent mental health problems; early intervention in primary care.