Association introduces course to help GPs identify, treat mental health symptoms


KLANG: Depression and other types of mental health conditions are not easy to detect at the early stage, says a psychiatrist.

Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said depression, for instance, could manifest as generalised body aches, especially back pain, as well as headaches and sleep difficulties.

"These are known as psychosomatic complaints. It is common for general practitioners to treat the symptoms by prescribing medication rather than the root cause which may remain undetected for a long time,'' said Dr Andrew, adding that patients could get addicted to the prescribed drugs as well.

To counter this, the Malaysian Society for Academic Psychiatry (MSAP) will start a certificate course in mental health endorsed by Universiti Kebabgsaan Malaysia, to equip general practitioners with the knowledge to identify and treat mental health symptoms.

Dr Andrew, who is MSAP president, said general practitioners can play a positive role in the mental health landscape of the country.

"General practitioners must be empowered to examine and treat mental health cases and refer them to psychiatrists if needed.

"This will also decrease the burden on specialist psychiatrist services which can then focus on more serious and severe cases," said Dr Andrew.

He added psychiatrists can refer their cases to the general practitioners for routine follow-up, as practiced in countries like Australia.

Meanwhile, the Selangor Mental Health Association (SMHA) applauded the initiative.

SMHA secretary Mohan Chitran said, Selangor, a highly industrialised state, was like a "pressure cooker" for many.

Hence, it may not be a surprise that many may suffer from mental health conditions and not realise it.

"Panel doctors in factories and industries in Selangor need to be empowered to help Malaysian workers facing workplace related mental health issues as well as foreign workers dealing with mental stress due to the challenging new cultural environment,'' said Mohan.

Mohan added SMHA was also interested in working closely with the Selangor government to battle mental health issues in the state.

He said SMHA was also willing to collaborate with Selcare, the state's primary healthcare platform.

"This will help the state to have more robust mental healthcare services at primary care level,'' said Mohan.

When contacted, Selangor public health and environment committee chairman Jamaliah Jamaluddin said she applauded the initiative to train general practitioners to recognise mental health issues.

"It is a commendable effort to integrate mental health care into primary healthcare and this move underscores the vital role of general practitioners in the early detection and management,'' said Jamaliah.

She also applauded SMHA's efforts to be involved in the proposed training of the state's general practitioners to equip them with the knowledge.

"Early detection is important as it will help people get the right help quickly. It's like finding a problem when it's small and preventing it from growing bigger,'' said Jamaliah.

MSAP's six-month training programme for general practitioners will start on April 2.

The course will include 20 modules covering conditions such as depression and anxiety, eating disorders, dementia and addiction psychiatry, among others.

It will also cover basic counselling skills and emphasis on workplace mental health.

General practitioners who are interested in pursuing the programme can write to admin@mysacp.org for further details.

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