The Need for Mental Health Professionals Within Primary Health Care

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Mental health concerns are presented in primary care settings regularly, yet a majority of these issues go undetected or are misdiagnosed by primary care physicians (PCPs). This may be due to a lack of mental health training for PCPs during their medical education. Over time, medical school curricula have evolved to include mental health training in order to bridge this gap in the healthcare system and to more readily identify patients in need of mental health services. The current study investigated AMA-accredited medical school curricula from universities across the US and US territories (N = 170) who train physicians in primary care, family medicine, or other generalist tracks. Data on mental health training were collected from the public websites of each school. Results showed that most universities indicated at least some type of required mental health training (85.3%), which were either didactic or experiential in nature. Although this result appears encouraging, further examination reveals that this training was most often limited to only one 4-week psychology-related course and a 6-week psychiatry rotation. Overall, many universities indicated at least one required course (N = 95), and most universities reported a required psychiatry rotation (N = 135). Moreover, only 12.9% of the sample reported having at least both didactic and experiential training required. The implications of this are varied. First, PCPs often have only a short amount of time with their patients, reducing their ability to fully assess both medical and mental health. A lack of exposure to mental health needs may lead to missed opportunities for intervention and improvement in patient health. Second, it is important for mental health professionals to work closely with PCPs in primary healthcare settings in order to improve rates for detection and treatment of mental health problems. In addition to improved patient outcomes, having mental health professionals integrate within primary healthcare can serve to decrease the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment, as well as reduce long-term healthcare costs. This can also increase access to care for those individuals who are unable to see a mental healthcare provider, especially in rural areas. Finally, overall health may improve in relation to better mental healthcare, since medical and mental health have been consistently shown to significantly influence one another.


Johnson City, TN

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