Family doctors should be trained to diagnose mental illness, according to a University of Hong Kong position statement released yesterday. The statement from the university's forum on psychological care in the community, which ends today, said: 'Family physicians, with appropriate training and support, can be effective health practitioners in the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of patients suffering from ... common mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders.' Several medical sector leaders, including Department of Health and Hospital Authority officials, signed the initiative on the eve of World Mental Health Day. About 100 general practitioners have completed HKU's diploma course on mental illness, while another 400-500 have attended Chinese University's certificate course. The Centre for Health Protection reported that 1.5 per cent of the population had been diagnosed as depressed in December 2005. Gabriel Choi Kin, president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said: 'We need primary care doctors to screen the population for mood disorders. A lot of people walk around depressed, but are not aware of it. They are unhappy, but try to live with it.' Harvard Medical School assistant professor Stephen Hsu I-hong had been receiving treatment for manic depression for 20 years. 'It should not be a surprise. I am a human being. I just happen to be a physician and a scientist,' he said. Leon Piterman, a professor at Monash University in Melbourne, said that since general practitioners had been helping diagnose mental illness in Australia, 'the changes that have occurred have been radical and gratifying'. 'For the first time in the past 10 years, we have now shown a reduction in suicide rates across the spectrum of age groups by up to 25 per cent,' he said.