Unmet need for recognition of common mental disorders in Australian general practice

I. B. Hickie*, T. A. Davenport, E. M. Scott, D. Hadzi-Pavlovic, S. L. Naismith, A. Koschera

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To determine the rate and predictors of unmet need for recognition of common mental disorders in Australian general practice. Design and setting: Cross-sectional national audit of general practices thoughout Australia in 198-1999. Participants: 46 515 ambulatory care patients attending 386 GPs. Screening tools: Prevalence of common mental disorders - 12 items from the 34-item SPHERE self-report questionnaire and associated classification system; prevalence of recognition of mental disorders by GPs - GPs reporting whether patients had depression, anxiety, mixed depression/anxiety, somatoform, or other psychological disorder; predictors of unmet need for recognition of mental disorders - self-report questions about demography for patients and GPs, and about practice organisation for GPs. Main outcome measures: Reported recognition of psychologial disorders by GPs; actual prevalence of disorders; and patients, GP and practice characteristics predicting the failure to recognise disorders. Results: GPs did not recognise mental disorder in 56% (11 922/21 210) of patients. These comprised 46% (5134/11 060) of patients in the higher level of mental disorders, and (in the second level of disorders) 58% (2906/5036) of patients with predominantly psychological symptoms, and 76% (3882/5114) of those with predominantly somatic symptoms. Patients more likely to have their need for psychological assessment met had the following characteristics; middle-aged (odds ratio [OR], 1.76; 95% CI, 1.59-1.96), female (OR, 1.19; 95% CI, 1.12-1.27), Australian-born (OR, 1.16; 95% CI, 1.08-1.24), unemployed (OR, 1.75; 95% CI, 1.64-1.89), single (OR, 1.52; 95%, CI, 1.41-1.61), presenting with mainly psychological symptoms (OR, 3.54; 95% CI, 3.28-3.81), and presenting for psychological reasons (OR, 4.20; 95% CI, 3.02-5.82). Characteristics of doctors associated with meeting patients' need for assessment were being aged over 35 years (OR, 1.51; 95% CI, 1.09-2.08), having an interest in mental health (OR, 1.27; 95% CI, 1.15-1.41), having had previous mental health training (OR, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.15-1.45), being in part-time practice (OR, 1.23; 95% CI, 1.09-1.39), seeing fewer than 100 patients per week (OR, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.13-1.47), working in practices with fewer than 2000 patients (OR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.13-1.45) and working in regional centres (OR, 1.16; 95% CI, 1.05-1.28). Conclusion: Unmet need for recognition of common mental disorders remains high. Predictors of unmet need include a somatic symptom profile and practitioner and organisational characteristics which impede the provision of high quality mental health services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S18-S24
Number of pages7
JournalMedical Journal of Australia
Issue numberSUPPL.
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2001
Externally publishedYes


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