Mental Health, Physician Responsibility

Family physicians have traditionally focused on treating the whole patient, and recognize the mind, body and spirit connection. Promotion of mental health, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in the individual and family context are integral components of family medicine.

Family physicians are uniquely positioned to recognize and treat problems in the continuum from mental health to mental illness. Through residency training and continuing medical education family physicians are prepared to manage mental health problems in children, adolescents, and adults of all ages. The continuity of care inherent in most family medicine settings makes early recognition of problems possible. Treating family members allows better recognition of problems as well as intervention in the family system. Family physicians are able to treat those individuals who would not access traditional mental health services because of the perceived stigma of mental illness. Consultation with and referral to other specialties as appropriate is a part of family medicine in regard to mental health/illness as it is in all other areas of patient care.

Reduction in the availability of behavioral health providers, expansion of treatment options via the patient centered medical home, improved pharmacologic treatments and care guidelines, combine to make the treatment of mental illness in the family physicians office more practical, necessary and appropriate.

Family physicians can draw the clinical practices of medical care and behavioral health closer together by supporting team-based specialist, and likewise, supporting behavioral health practices that include family physicians. This “bi-directional” care coordinates medical and behavioral health services for the benefit of patients.

Family physicians can support appropriate public mental health policy, and when possible support and coordinate with other organizations to promote better mental health services for those with mental illness. These efforts include prevention of mortality through early intervention and appropriate and timely treatment, and prevention of mortality through careful use of medications and suicide prevention. (1982) (2012 COD)