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Psychiatr Serv. 2008 Dec;59(12):1391-8. doi: 10.1176/

Persistent depression and anxiety in the United States: prevalence and quality of care.

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  • 1Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center, Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare Center, Los Angeles, CA, USA.



Although effective treatments exist, individuals with depressive and anxiety disorders can remain ill for years. Little is known regarding mental health status and treatment use in this population. This study provided national estimates of the prevalence of persistent depression and anxiety, as well as estimates of illness severity, treatment use, and quality of care in this population.


Data were from a prospective, community-based cohort study of 1,642 adults with probable major depression, dysthymia, panic disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder who were part of a U.S. probability sample. Telephone surveys were conducted during 1997-1998 and again an average of 32 months later. Surveys assessed diagnosis, quality of life, treatment satisfaction, medical conditions, suicidal ideation, insurance, medications, and treatment use.


At follow-up, 59% no longer met criteria for a disorder. The estimated national prevalence of a persistent depressive or anxiety disorder was 4.7%. In this subgroup, 87% had a chronic comorbid medical disorder. During the past year, 88% had seen a primary care practitioner, and 22% had seen a mental health specialist. Between baseline and follow-up, the percentage using appropriate medication increased (21% to 29%), but there was no significant change in use of appropriate counseling (23% to 19%). Only 12% were receiving both appropriate medication and counseling at follow-up. Treatment was less likely for men and people with less education. Suicidal ideation was present in 51% at follow-up.


Strategies are needed to increase treatment use and intensity for people with persistent depressive and anxiety disorders. This may require improved access to mental health specialists.

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