Discomfort sharing the general practice waiting room with mentally ill patients: a cross-sectional study

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Most mental illness is managed in general practice rather than specialist psychiatric settings. Management of mental illness in general practice is advocated as being less stigmatizing than psychiatric settings. Thus, other patients’ discomfort with sharing the waiting room with the mentally ill may be problematic.


To examine prevalence and associations of discomfort of general practice waiting room patients with fellow patients with mental illness and the implications for practices of these attitudes. We sought attitudes reflecting social distance, a core element of stigmatization.


A cross-sectional waiting room questionnaire-based study in 15 Australian general practices. Outcome measures were discomfort sharing a waiting room with patients with mental illness, likelihood of changing GP practice if that practice provided specialized care for patients with mental illness, and the perception that general practice is a setting where patients with mental illness should be treated.


Of 1134 participants (response rate 78.5%), 29.7% and 12.2%, respectively, reported they would be uncomfortable sharing a waiting room with a patient with schizophrenia or severe depression/anxiety. Only 29.9% and 48.8%, respectively, felt that general practice was an appropriate location for treatment of schizophrenia or severe depression/anxiety. Ten per cent would change their current practice if it provided specialized care for mentally ill patients.


This desire of general practice patients for social distance from fellow patients with mental illness may have implications for both the GPs with a particular interest in mental disorders and the care-seeking and access to care of patients with mental illness.

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