Mental health issues? GPs can help

More of them being trained to spot and handle conditions such as depression and dementia

People with mental health conditions will find it easier to get help in the community as more general practitioners (GPs) are being trained to diagnose and manage such illnesses.

The Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) said yesterday that it has expanded its Mental Health GP-partnership programme to include 122 GPs who run private clinics, an increase from 70 in 2012.

Doctors in the programme attend a course at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to learn about conditions such as dementia, depression and anxiety disorders.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Singapore Mental Health Conference, Dr Tan Weng Mooi, chief of the community mental health division at AIC, said there is often a stigma associated with visiting psychiatrists but this is less so with GPs.

Hence, having a network of GPs equipped with knowledge about mental illnesses will help early detection and allow patients to start treatment sooner, she said.

Three National Healthcare Group (NHG) polyclinics - in Ang Mo Kio, Woodlands and Jurong - have also joined the programme, said Dr Tan, and the number of NHG polyclinics involved is expected to increase to six by 2020.

In addition, polyclinics managed by SingHealth will also be joining the programme later this year.

A one-year pilot study, conducted by the AIC in 2013 with three GPs, found that the doctors diagnosed 429 new cases of mental illness. The AIC estimates that the doctors in the pilot study had potentially diverted about 1,000 appointments from hospitals.

More than 3,000 patients were helped through the Mental Health GP-partnership programme last year, the agency added.

Yesterday, IMH and the National Council for Social Service (NCSS) also announced that they are developing a peer-support programme for people with mental illness.

The programme, to be launched early next year, will train people who have recovered from mental illness to be "peer specialists", which will be a full-time job. It was formerly done on a voluntary basis.

Ms Chan Li Shan, 33, who used to be a part-time peer support specialist, said she used her experience of recovering from schizophrenia to inspire others to conquer their illnesses.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2016, with the headline 'Mental health issues? GPs can help'. Print Edition | Subscribe