Critics of self-referral claim it will overload already overstretched psychological services with the ‘worried well'.
But the study, in this month's British Journal of General Practice, says it is an effective way of reaching people that avoid consulting with a GP.
Patients in some areas can now bypass their GP and refer themselves as part of the DoH's Improving Access to Psychological Therapies scheme (IAPT). Researchers from King's College, London examined recent studies and pilots of self-referral and found a third of those who access services by this route had never consulted their GP about their mental health problems. Three quarters met the criteria for diagnosis with anxiety and depression.
The study recommends other non-medical staff, such as practice nurses and self-help groups, be encouraged to intervene and help patients self-refer.
A significant expansion in capacity and up to 10,000 new therapists are required to keep up with demand for psychological services, say the authors of the study.
GPs have been frustrated by long waiting lists when referring patients with common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, for psychological therapy.
The National Psychiatric Morbidity Survey estimates that 70% of people with mental health problems do not present to their GP and therefore do not have access to psychological therapy.