OBJECTIVES: To compare the findings of the 1997 and 2007 Australian national surveys of mental health and wellbeing (NSMHWBs) with respect to the role of general practitioners in providing mental health services. DESIGN, SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: There were 10,641 participants Australia-wide in the 1997 survey and 8841 in the 2007 survey. Data were gathered through face-to-face interviews using a written questionnaire. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Rates of use of GPs and other health care providers for treatment of mental health problems; levels of met and unmet need for mental health services reported by those accessing GP services. RESULTS: Between 1997 and 2007, the proportion of people accessing any mental health care service within the previous 12 months increased significantly, from 12.4% to 21.4% (P < 0.01), although the proportion accessing GP care for mental health problems did not increase. In both surveys, nearly 60% of individuals with self-assessed mental health problems sought no professional help for their problems, although about 80% of these non-users had seen GPs about other matters. The proportions of participants who reported receiving sufficient information, medication and/or therapy for their mental health problem increased significantly over the 10-year period. However, unmet need for information also increased. In both surveys, over 90% of participants aged 60 years or over with self-assessed mental health problems reported obtaining no help for their mental health problem despite seeing a GP for other reasons. CONCLUSION: Despite a significant rise in the use of mental health services, the role of GPs in providing such services has not increased.