Mental Health Educational Program for Primary Health Care Physicians

ABSTRACT Introduction: Brazilian primary health care and mental health policies have contributed significantly to improving health care in the country. Both defend the basic principles of the Unified Health System (SUS) and propose a change in the health care model, focusing on a decentralized, community/family-oriented approach, rather than the traditional centralized, hospital-oriented model. Objective: This article aims to provide practical elements, which may serve as a model for the implementation of mental health education programs for primary health care physicians who work in Brazil. Methods: Learning needs in mental health were identified using data triangulation methodology that drew on literature review, questionnaires and focus groups. The study was conducted in the town of Sobral,, Ceará, with the participation of 26 family physicians from 28 Basic Health Units and three psychiatry professors from Brazilian medical schools. Results: Most of the family doctors felt unprepared to solve mental health problems and identified major gaps in their medical training. They reported that the focus on mental health issues was insufficient, and centered on the hospital setting and healing, rather than in the context of community care. The educational program developed provides health teams and health education institutions with the conceptual, practical and methodological framework for primary-level mental health education initiatives. Conclusion: The tools to identify health learning needs proved useful in the development of continuing education programs together with primary health professionals. For the purposes of validation, it is suggested that this program be tested in different Brazilian cities followed by thorough evaluation.