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Mental health problems in Maori attending GPs

1 June 2005

Mental health problems in Maori attending GPs

Anxiety disorders, depression and substance use disorders are all more common among Maori than non- Maori patients who are attending their GP, a study by University of Otago researchers has revealed.

The study, by the Mental Health and General Practice Investigation (MaGPIe) research group at the University of Otago’s Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, found that this trend was particularly marked for Meq \o (a,¯)ori women.

Overall, Maori women attending general practices were twice as likely as non- Maori women attenders to have a diagnosable mental disorder. Although differences were found between Maori and non- Maori in terms of social and material deprivation, higher rates of mental disorder among Maori GP attenders cannot be accounted for by these differences alone.
Associate Professor John Bushnell says efforts to reduce disparities in mental health for Maori by relying on interventions targeting social and material deprivation alone are unlikely to have much impact.

“Our data suggest that effective interventions need to explicitly address mental health. A range of different strategies need to be incorporated, such as reducing exposure to risk factors for mental disorder, promoting disclosure, early recognition and intervention, and ensuring access to acceptable and effective treatments.

“They also need to explicitly take ethnicity into account in the way those interventions are designed and delivered,” says Associate Professor Bushnell.

The research involved a survey of 70 randomly selected GPs and their patients. There were 3414 patients involved, some of whom were interviewed in depth, and 786 of those people form the basis of this paper. Mental disorder was assessed by a standardised interview, and social and material deprivation measured by two different methods.

The study has just been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

“This study cannot tell us if Maori out there in the community are more likely to experience mental illness, or whether Maori are more likely to seek help if they have mental health problems because those attending general practice, particularly in a fee paying setting, do not necessarily reflect the prevalence of illness in a community.

“However, the pattern of differences is consistent with higher rates of illness among Maori compared to non- Maori in other domains of both physical and mental health. Having effective policies to reduce the disparity in health status of Maori is a matter of vital relevance to the wellbeing of all New Zealanders,” Associate Professor Bushnell says.

The Health Research Council of New Zealand funded the project with supplementary funds contributed by the Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC).


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