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The Primary Care Mental Health conference held in Exeter on 21 March, raised patient safety and comorbidity, interventions to improve psychological and physical wellbeing, and mental multimorbidity as increasingly important features of the mental health research landscape, according to doctoral researcher Abi Methley.

Seeing multimorbidity as the norm in health services research
Abi Methley, PhD student, University of Manchester

"The conference was held in Exeter, with funding provided by Plymouth and Exeter Universities, the Devon Partnership NHS Trust, Peninsula Local Research Network and the West Hub of the UK Mental Health Research Network.

After a warm welcome from Professor Chris Dickens, extolling the virtues of the South West (at the expense of a few residents of Salford…) two large scale trials were reported: CADET by Professor David Richards of University of Exeter, and the COINCIDE  trial by Dr Peter Coventry, University of Manchester. These presentations showcased the role of collaborative care to improve the organisation of services and therefore the management of depression, including in people with multi-morbidity, in primary care.

A keynote presentation from Professor Stewart Mercer explained the importance of multimorbidity research and highlighted the social patterns of both physical and mental multimorbidity and deprivation. A central message from all presentations was the need to see multimorbidity as the norm in health services research, not the exception, especially when as Professor Mercer pointed out “you rarely hear patients talking about their “index” condition!”.

Rose McCabe presented an evocative presentation on investigating suicidal thoughts in primary and secondary care consultations, and the need to be aware of the impact clinicians’ language can have on the information that patients chose to divulge and share.

A wide variety of quick fire presentations were presented covering topics from patient safety issues in comorbidity through to interventions to improve psychological and physical wellbeing in people with comorbidity.

I presented a poster on my research investigating a theory of candidacy for care in people with Multiple Sclerosis and comorbid psychological symptoms. This research has shown how the perceptions of staff members such as GPs and Practice Nurses (as well as those of service-users themselves) can influence how services users access and utilise appropriate care pathways.

The conference funding provided the opportunity for a unique workshop where service-users with lived experience of both physical and psychological symptoms discussed their priorities for primary care research. The winner of the poster presentation was Roseanna Polge for her work investigating how to distinguish between psychological disorder and emotional disorder in primary care attenders.

Overall the conference was lively and well-attended, providing the opportunity for both service-users and researchers to share their passion for mental health care and research, and to network with colleagues from across the UK. Hopefully many research collaborations were devised over lunch and coffee, so watch this space!"