First port of call: How GPs make a difference with mental health

First port of call: How GPs make a difference with mental health

First port of call: How GPs make a difference with mental health

When health concerns arise, usually your GP is the first port of call. The same applies when mental health problems occur. Dr Ebonney van der Meer, a registrar with JCU's General Practice Training program, explains why undertaking Advanced Specialised Training in mental health was the best decision for her.

The opportunity to share in people’s lives and being able to help them drive Dr van der Meer to be the best doctor she can be. With almost one in five Australians experiencing symptoms of a mental disorder in any year, undertaking Advanced Specialised Training in mental health was an easy decision for Dr van der Meer.

“An advanced skill in mental health teaches you how to use your communication skills in the best possible way to engage your patients and colleagues,” she says. “It’s about how to connect with the patient in the moment, and using that information to help achieve what the patient wants, and needs, together.”

Dr van der Meer completed Advanced Specialised Training at the Townsville Adult Acute Mental Health Inpatient Unit with the Rural, Remote and Indigenous Outreach Stream. The 12-month program is specifically tailored to JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry’s learning objectives and ensures exposure to all general and speciality areas of psychiatry.

Dr van der Meer has been able to use her Advanced Specialist Training to help patients, including Kristy who lost her partner to suicide.

Dr Jason Lee, Clinical Director of Rural, Remote and Indigenous Mental Health Services at the Townsville Mental Health Service Group, and JCU GP Supervisor, said mental health problems are now one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. He said Advanced Specialist Training in mental health is the one sub-speciality that would make a GP a better doctor overall.

“Around 95 per cent of people who need help with their mental health will end up being managed by their GPs rather than specialists,” he said. “[The Advanced Specialist Training in mental health] would improve your ability to work with people. It would increase the likelihood that your patients who come to you, regardless of whether they’ve got surgical, medical or other conditions, tell you about all the problems they’re experiencing and are more likely to follow through on the treatment plan that you work with them on.”

Dr Ebonney van der Meer with her husband, Martin, and daughter, Lorreli, have made Cooktown their home. Dr van der Meer hopes her advanced skills in mental health will help build on the delivery of services in the region.  Image: Supplied

Dr van der Meer said the training gave her skills and tools that she is able to pass on to her patients. She feels privileged to have people share their lives, happiness and struggles with her, and to be able to do something to help them.

“Mental health Advanced Specialised Training was definitely the best choice for me,” she says. “I have the opportunity to share in people’s lives and help them where I can, and that’s what I love about my job.”

To find out more about GP training and advanced skills, visit Queensland Mental Health Week runs from 8-14 October with a variety of events on around the state. For more information and support, visit beyondblue and Lifeline.

About GP training with JCU

James Cook University is contracted by the Australian Department of Health to deliver the Australian General Practice Training program in North Western Queensland. The AGPT program is a vocational training program for medical graduates pursuing a career in General Practice.

Feature image: Supplied

Published 27 Aug 2020