Lost together: Experiences of family physicians with emerging adult mental health

Objective To explore the perceptions and experiences of FPs with emerging adult (EA) mental health to inform opportunities for improvement in EA mental health care.

Design Constructivist grounded theory methodology, including theoretical sampling and constant comparative analysis of data to synthesize results.

Setting Southwestern Ontario.

Participants Twenty practising FPs.

Methods In-depth, semistructured, in-person interviews, which were audiorecorded and transcribed verbatim.

Main findings Family physicians recognized the unique situation of EAs being between adolescence and adulthood, having heavy psychosocial needs, and lacking a connection to the health care system. Experience and confidence are needed to treat the EA population, but provision of mental health care to EAs is influenced by resources, knowledge, and communication. Family physicians noted that they are the default physician while EAs wait for specialized care, and are often the physicians that the patient is referred back to after specialized care. Often, the FP knows and treats the EA’s entire family, which participants described as enabling them to understand the EA’s unique context.

Conclusion Family physicians and EAs are “lost together” in a fragmented health care system. Family physicians have the unique potential to assist EAs with their mental health needs, but that is not being actualized. Family physicians can support mental health outcomes for EAs through an improvement in knowledge and skills, and through forming family practice teams.

Kristina Miller, Saadia Hameed and Javeed Sukhera
Canadian Family Physician, August 2020, 66 (8)
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