Date Published: 22 July 2005

Male GPs more likely to prescribe antidepressants than female GPs

Health News from the United Kingdom (UK).

A recent survey carried out for UK Charity The Mental Health Foundation questioned 200 family doctors (GPs) and found that 61% of male GPs would first offer pills to people with mild or moderate depression. In contrast, only 37% of female GPs questioned said they would suggest medication first, with more favouring counselling.

One justification that may be offered for the tendency to offer medication immediately is long waiting times for other services such as counselling.
Dr. Jim Kennedy (Royal College of GPs) said that:

" There is a huge problem around waiting times of up to 12 months or more for counselling."

This is not the only explanation for the different responses of GPs. The survey also found 43% of male GPs think antidepressants are effective, compared to 17% of their female colleagues.

Although women doctors may be more likely to believe counselling is the most effective treatment for depression, there is little difference in the proportion of male and female GPs who actually refer patients for so-called "talking therapy" - 39% of female doctors and 26% of men.

The Mental Health Foundation says this disparity in women doctors' beliefs and actions may be due to the lack of availability of counsellors to see patients.

The charity also questioned 180 people with experience of depression about their strategies for coping:

  • Two-thirds of those questioned had tried exercise as a strategy, and 81% said it was effective.
  • 60% said their GPs had offered them antidepressants, 42% counselling.
  • Only 2% per cent were offered exercise on prescription.
  • Half of those who had taken antidepressants reported "troubling" side effects.

Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said:

" GPs' knowledge and beliefs, coupled with a chronic shortage of any choice of treatments in many areas, means that people presenting with mental health problems face an obstacle course in finding a treatment that will work for them.
We need to change the attitudes and prescribing behaviours of GPs, and educate them about the effectiveness of exercise referral and other non-medical treatments so that patients are given more choice.

Dr Jim Kennedy, chair of the Royal College of GPs prescribing committee, said:

" Women tend to choose female GPs and men tend to choose to see men.
_ So there may be an issue about the client group. Men may be less inclined to go for counselling."

He added that:

" There is a huge problem around waiting times of up to 12 months or more for counselling.
_ If you have a situation like that, there is no point in referring someone with acute depression for counselling if you know they are going to have to wait that long.

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