Family doctors are the ones whom the members of a family approach, regardless of each having a different problem. Family doctors aim to provide an integral care for any health concerns, of any age.
Equipping family doctors with mental health first aid (MHFA) can be very beneficial.
Families look up to a family doctor to provide them with the primary health care. When a family in need approaches a family doctor, they come with the hope that their problems would be addressed. So whatever the doctor says the family would religiously follow it to cure the problem. If the family member has or is developing mental illness, advices regarding it from a family doctor will be treated more seriously. Why? We all are aware about the stigmas attached to mental health; if a common member of the community tries to help we won’t consider their advice as seriously as if the same advice comes from a professional (family doctor).
Family doctors would be in a better position to educate the person and the family members about the mental crisis the individual is facing and the available treatment options for the crisis. They could also speed up the process of help by referring the person in need to a mental health professional.
Family doctors do not specialize in only one particular organ or age group. Their area of focus is very broad. Hence people from all stages of life would approach a family doctor. When a family doctor is equipped with MHFA, they are in a better position to provide help to a wider range of people in the community. They would have the broader and easier access to provide MHFA where it is needed.
Family doctors can carry out their role in providing mental health help through many ways. They can provide basic mental health prevention intervention in every consultation they do. When a person approaches them for a physical problem, they can conduct necessary screening for mental health problems, as many physical problems can be a manifestation of a mental issue. Example, stress causes frequent headaches, body aches and bowel irritations.
If they come across a person with mental illness they can address the issue with a positive attitude. They can encourage the person to accept their illness and work on it. They can encourage and educate the family members about the disorder and help that is required. The family members in turn can learn to care for the mentally ill member non-judgmentally from the family doctor.
Are there skills that a family doctor has to be equipped with in order to help a family? Yes there are;
- Firstly, they need to be aware of the mental illnesses (and their symptoms) an individual can be vulnerable to at their particular age. For example, eating disorder is common among teenagers. And screen them for these when they show vulnerability.
- Secondly, they should be equipped with self help strategies the suffering individual can use in the initial stage and until a professional help is available.
- Thirdly, they should keep the contact information of mental health professionals or centres that can help if there is any need, these information should be in handy.
- Lastly, they should be able to show empathy, approach without judgement and encourage the family to get a professional mental health help if it is needed. Empathy and acceptance is important, as mentioned above, the family would accept a family doctor’s opinion more openly.
Family doctors, like any other member of the community can help other by equipping themselves with MHFA skill. But they would be in a better position to help, as they are the one whom people look up to when in need for health care, thus there are chances that their advices will be followed more seriously.