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Why GPs are important in mental health

It is estimated that 45% of Australians aged 16–85 years will be affected by a mental illness at some stage during their lifetime. One in five (around 3.2 million) Australians will be affected during any 12-month period. 2

As GPs are often the first point of contact for patients experiencing a mental illness, they are the most common providers of mental health services. Therefore, it is essential thatthey have the necessary skills and knowledge to address patients’ mental health needs.

In Australia, ‘general practice mental health care’ refers to the assessment and management of people who experience mental illness of varying degrees. Further, it often includes the ongoing care of these patients.

To provide general practice mental health care, GPs need to be able to:

  • perform a biopsychosocial assessment, taking into account the patient’s chronic and acute physical and mental health issues, as well as their past and present personal, social and cultural circumstances (the GPMHSC does not endorse any diagnostic tool for GPs, who may choose the assessment method and diagnostic tool they believe to be the most suitable)
  • identify early warning signs of mental illness
  • identify signs of suicide risk, and respond accordingly
  • provide or recommend appropriate care based on the patient’s assessed needs (eg e-mental health for mild mental health issues, face-to-face counselling for moderate to severe mental health issues) as well as taking into account cultural factors that may influence the model of care chosen
  • provide continuity of care, which is a key component of the successful treatment of people with mental illness
  • use and participate in a multidisciplinary approach to care.


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Mental health services in Australia. Canberra: AIHW, 2019. Available at  [Accessed 31 July 2019].