Addressing Mental Health Concerns in Primary Care: Practices Among Medical Residents in a Rural Setting


Behavioral health issues like anxiety and depression negatively impact numerous aspects of primary care, including medical regimen adherence, communication, physical well-being, and engagement in beneficial health behaviors. This study aimed to examine internal and family medicine residents’: (1) patterns of addressing mental health concerns (e.g., frequency of referral for psychotherapy and/or medication), (2) self-perceptions of competency in assessment and treatment of specific mental health disorders, and (3) frequency of utilization of efficacious therapeutic strategies during clinical encounters. Self-report surveys were administered to Family Medicine and Internal Medicine residents (N = 39). Descriptive analyses indicated that 81% of the time, residents discussed mental health concerns when it was the presenting concern, and routinely offered medication and psychotherapy (71% and 68% of the time, respectively). Residents felt most competent in addressing major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, and least competent in addressing somatization disorder and bipolar disorder. Residents reported that they most often used motivational interviewing (MI), followed by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, psychoeducation, and solution-focused strategies during medical encounters. These findings highlight a need to identify barriers to addressing mental health conditions in primary care and potential gaps in training that might address low levels of perceived competency among medical residents.

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Correspondence to Danielle L. Terry.

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Danielle L. Terry and Christopher P. Terry declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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Terry, D.L., Terry, C.P. Addressing Mental Health Concerns in Primary Care: Practices Among Medical Residents in a Rural Setting. J Clin Psychol Med Settings 26, 395–401 (2019).

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  • Primary care issues
  • Behavioral sciences
  • Residency
  • Mental health