I see no problem with a PCP prescribing SSRIs or very small
amounts of benzos. BUT, I think this should only be done in the context of waiting for a referral to a psychiatrist. Perhaps I'm biased though as a live in Canada where seeing a psychiatrist costs me nothing, whereas I know in places like the US this can get quite expensive.
I was put on the supposed highest dose of Lexapro too by my PCP immediately (20mg). Maybe I was just lucky but I didn't have any side effects. He was wary about prescribing benzos, giving me maybe 5 at a time if I really needed it, and also added Wellbutrin to my regimen when I talked to him about it, but all this was while waiting to get my intake appointment at the local hospital's outpatient mental health clinic. Psychiatric services are VERY in demand here, the number of new patients is exploding really as society becomes more comfortable with the whole idea of mental illness, and so the referral took 6 months, so I think my GP was justified in giving me supportive treatment in the meantime, but for the last year and a half now, all my psychiatric care has gone to my psychiatrist (as well as seeing a social worker at the clinic for a kind of informal therapy that has helped me break out of my shell quite a bit.) Both of them I usually see every 2 weeks, although circumstances sometimes extend it to a month and at other times, like when starting an MAOI, it was every single week.
But... I totally disagree with the idea of a PCP taking on the responsibility of psychiatric care on their own. They are supposed to be involved in PRIMARY CARE, as the name suggest, and refer to an expert when warranted. Just like you'd want an oncologist treating your cancer rather than your PCP doing it on his own, you want a psychiatrist dealing with psychiatric issues. For the people who can't afford a psychiatrist... I really don't know what to say though, except that mental illness should be taken seriously (it IS often life-threatening), and even if you couldn't technically afford to see an oncologist, it would be absurd not to figure out a way how.