Background The Arkhangelsk Oblast is an area the size of France with a sparsely distributed population. The existing primary care staff have had very little training in the management of mental health disorders, despite the frequency of these disorders in the population. They requested special teaching on depression, suicide, somatisation and alcohol problems. Methods An educational intervention was developed in partnership with mental health and primary care staff in Russia, to develop mental health skills using established, evidence-based methods. After a preliminary demonstration of teaching methods to be employed, a 5-day full-time teaching course was offered to trainers of general practitioners and feldshers. Results The findings are presented by providing details of improvements that occurred over a 3-month period in four areas, namely depression in primary care, somatic presentations of distress, dealing with suicidal patients, and alcohol problems. We present preliminary data on how the training has generalised since our visits to Archangelsk. Conclusions Teachers who are used to teaching by didactic lectures can be taught the value of short introductory talks that invite discussion, and mental health skills can be taught using role play. The content of such training should be driven by perceived local needs, and developed in conjunction with local leaders and teachers within primary care services. Further research will be needed to establish the impact on clinical outcomes.
Keywords: education; family practice; mental health.