Skip to main content

Why GPs are important in mental health

In 2020–21, almost 13% of Australians aged 16–85 saw a GP for their mental health.1

In 2019–20, approximately 30% of Medicare-subsidised services specific to mental health were provided by GPs.7 In a recent report, GPs reported – for the sixth consecutive year – that psychological conditions (including sleep disturbance and depression) were the most commonly reported reasons for patient presentations.8

This is why GPs need skills and knowledge to identify and address patients’ mental health needs.

Skills and knowledge GPs need to provide mental health services

GPMHSC-accredited training provides GPs with the fundamental skills required to assess a patient’s needs, recommend appropriate referral options, and manage a patient’s ongoing mental health care in the context of general practice.
In Australia, ‘general practice mental health care’ refers to the assessment, management and ongoing care of people who experience mental illness of varying degrees.
To provide general practice mental health care, GPs need to be able to:
  • identify mental health issues
  • ensure that the patient receives appropriate care.

Identifying mental health issues

This includes being able to:

  • perform a biopsychosocial assessment, taking into account the patient’s chronic and acute physical and mental health issues, and 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 risk factors of mental illness
  • identify signs of suicide risk, and respond accordingly
  • provide support and advice that can reduce risk factors and potentially prevent mental illness.

Ensuring appropriate care

This includes being able to:

  • provide or recommend appropriate care based on the patient’s assessed needs (such as e-mental health for mild mental health issues, and face-to-face counselling for moderate to severe mental health issues), and 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
  • develop a General Practice Mental Health Treatment Plan (GP MHTP) for each patient.

Useful GPMHSC resources

Suicide prevention and first aid: A resource for GPs.
After suicide: A resource for GPs.
Practice guide: Communication between medical and mental health professionals
Working with the Stepped Care Model: Mental health services through general practice.

GP Mental Health Treatment Plans

A GP MHTP aims to:

  • provide continuity of care for a patient with a mental illness
  • provide a structured framework for you to undertake assessment, early intervention and management of a patient with a mental illness
  • help you coordinate the patient’s care and provide a referral pathway to allied mental health service providers
  • enable you, when possible, to actively involve the patient and carer in their care.

GP MHTP templates

The GP MHTP templates developed by the GPMHSC can enhance the quality of mental health care provided and support GPs to manage common mental health disorders under the Better Access initiative.

The templates prompt you to ask important questions when you are assessing a patient with symptoms of a mental illness, planning their treatment and reviewing their progress. The templates also make the documentation of this information easier and more consistent.

There are four templates that you might decide to use:

  • a short-form template titled Minimal requirements
  • a template to use with adult patients
  • a template to use with child and adolescent patients
  • a template to be used as a Subjective Objective Assessment Plan.

When preparing and claiming for a GP MHTP, you can use any of these templates, and you can adapt the templates according to the needs of your practice and your patients. For example, you might decide not to enter information in some of the fields of the template.

Reviewing a patient’s GP MHTP

Because GP MHTPs do not expire, a patient will continue to be eligible for rebated allied mental health services from one year to the next unless you (as the referring GP) consider that a new plan is clinically necessary. Generally, new plans should not be developed within 12 months of the previous plan.

You can assess and manage the patient’s progress and write a new referral for further services using any of the following MBS items:

  • 2712: GP MHTP review item
  • 2713: general practice mental health consultation item
  • 23, 36 and 44: standard general practice consultation.

Useful GPMHSC resources

GP Mental Health Treatment Plan.
GP MHTP templates.