When Primary Care Providers Treat Depression: Tips for Engagement

Susan Weinstein, JD
Editor in Chief, Care for Your Mind

Primary Care Providers (PCPs) are usually the first clinicians to treat a person’s depression. Family caregivers can enhance treatment outcomes by providing information to the clinician and support to the person living with depression. Families for Depression Awareness’ new video provides tips for working effectively with PCPs for the benefit of your loved one and your family.

In the U.S., most people receive initial diagnosis and treatment for depression by their PCP, who usually prescribe 1-2 courses of medication. In fact, PCPs write approximately two-thirds of all antidepressant prescriptions. (We do not discount the value of non-medication interventions, such as psychotherapy, but it is not the focus of this discussion.) Why are PCPs the first line of defense? Here are a few reasons.

  • Speed: It’s usually quicker to get an appointment with a PCP than a psychiatrist. The mental health care system is overburdened, particularly due to a lack of mental health professionals.
  • Comfort: A person with depression is usually more willing to see someone with whom they are familiar.
  • Convenience: A person’s PCP is more likely to be located nearby than a mental health specialist. Many states are severely under-resourced for mental health care.
  • Cost: PCP visits are routinely covered by health insurance for the price of a co-pay and perhaps a deductible, while visits to mental health professionals may not be, or may be at a higher out-of-pocket cost as a specialist visit.
  • Stigma: It’s usually easier to get someone to go to see their PCP than a mental health professional because of negative perceptions of mental health conditions. (See, for example, our post about therapy being made available at retail stores and posts about cultural competence with Derek Wilson and Norel Lim.)

If you are a caregiver to a person living with depression, how can you help? Watch the video for answers to some of the challenges of mental health treatment in primary care.

What do you think?

  • What challenges have you faced in receiving mental health treatment in primary care?

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