Background: Psychological difficulties are common in adolescence with general practice attendees having higher rates than reported in community surveys. Yet GP identification of common mental health problems in this age group is limited. Anxiety and uncertainty around professional practice have been found among GPs and they vary in their degree of engagement with adolescents presenting with psychological difficulties.
Aim: To explore which factors influence the degree of GP engagement.
Design and setting: Qualitative study based in 18 practices in the north east of England. The practices recruited included rural, urban, and mixed populations of patients predominantly living in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.
Method: Theoretical sampling was used to guide recruitment of GP participants continuing until theoretical saturation was reached. Data were analysed using the constant comparative method of grounded theory and situational analysis.
Results: In total 19 GPs were recruited: 10 were female, the age range was 29-59 years, with a modal range of 40-49 years. The participants collectively described a sense of their professional competence being challenged, yet reacted with varying degrees of engagement. Three themes appeared to shape a GP's response: performance in the clinical encounter; view of adolescents and their health needs; and the GP's own preferred epistemological framework.
Conclusion: The findings suggest that better patterns of engagement between GPs and adolescents are supported by medical education which includes input and feedback from adolescents; education about the science and psychology of adolescence; more effective working across disciplinary boundaries; and recognition of the importance of addressing psychological difficulties early.
Keywords: GP consultation style; adolescent psychological difficulties; youth mental health.