How to ensure GPs' mental health patients comply with treatment?

I read with interest how more general practitioners (GPs) are being trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses ("Mental health issues? GPs can help"; May 28).

The Mental Health GP-partnership programme refers patients whose mental illnesses are stable to GPs at selected clinics near their homes.

This move has many benefits, such as cutting down travelling time for patients for consultations, as well as freeing up the Institute of Mental Health so that it can focus more on the acute cases.

Visiting a GP also carries less stigma than visiting a psychiatrist.

GPs interested in joining the programme have to attend a course on how to diagnose and manage mental illnesses.

However, the question is how follow-up treatment would be enforced.

A patient seeing the GP for the first time may be in denial or unaware that he is suffering from a mental illness.

He could refuse much-needed treatment, risking serious consequences when timely treatment is not administered. GPs have no power to admit mental patients for involuntary treatment.

It takes a trained and observant eye to pick out the subtle symptoms of mental illness.

If the GP misses these, he might become impatient with the patient, leading to poor communication and outcomes.

The hard skills of diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses are probably easier to impart to GPs than the soft skills of interpersonal interaction with the patients.

Lee Kay Yan (Miss)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'How to ensure GPs' mental health patients comply with treatment?'. Subscribe