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Brief mental health programme assists patients, GPs

Thursday 10 November 2011

Brief mental health intervention programme assists patients and GPs

A big difference to the mental health of New Zealanders could be achieved by introducing a promising brief guided self-help intervention programme administered by GPs.

The innovative primary care study by the University of Otago, Wellington shows that ultra brief self-help interventions may be effective for many people who go to their GP with common mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or substance misuse.

“There’re thousands of people who have mental health problems which impact on their lives, but which aren’t of the kind usually seen by a specialist, who can be helped through a brief programme administered by their GP or practice nurse,” says study leader Professor Sunny Collings.

“This research shows for the first time in New Zealand that guided self-help interventions can really help with work and role functioning, as well as psychological distress brought on by poor mental health. Most importantly this can be delivered in the primary care setting without having to refer outside the practice.”

The study investigated the response of patients who took part in a locally designed five week programme involving three brief sessions with a trained primary care professional. The intervention was designed with input from primary care experts and potential patients, as well as secondary care mental health specialists.

“The results are very promising; after the five week course and a further review by the GP we saw statistically significant gains,” says Collings. “There was an improvement in the health status of all the participants, with scores for mental health problems dropping significantly, and benefits persisting three months later.”

Collings says the study shows that the significant need to help people with mental health problems in the community can be addressed at the primary care level through the use of brief but structured intervention programmes, which both doctors and patient understand. The intervention has the potential to make a significant contribution to primary mental health care in New Zealand.

“The big advantage of this type of intervention is it means GPs are able to confidently provide assistance once they’ve been through a short training course, patients enjoy it and feel they are making progress, and the health system doesn’t have to spend money on further specialist treatment.”

Professor Collings says the programme may also prevent people with sub-threshold mental health problems actually getting worse and requiring more intensive input. She plans further testing of the intervention on a larger sample, with a randomized controlled trial before full clinical application.

This project was funded by the Health Research Council and has been published in the international journal Family Practice.


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