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Can J Psychiatry. 2010 Oct;55(10):669-76.

Predictors of the longitudinal course of major depression in a Canadian population sample.

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  • 1Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta.



Most psychiatric epidemiologic studies have used cross-sectional methods, resulting in a lack of information about the longitudinal course of depressive disorders. The objective of our study was to describe the longitudinal epidemiology of major depressive episodes (MDEs) in a Canadian sample using data from the National Population Health Survey (NPHS).


The NPHS started data collection in 1994 and has evaluated past-year MDE using repeat interviews of the same cohort every 2 years since then. In our study, we examined the number of weeks depressed during years when MDEs occurred, the proportion of respondents having MDEs at consecutive cycles, and MDE counts during follow-up.


A sizable proportion of MDEs were brief: about one-half of respondents with past-year MDE reported 8 or fewer weeks of depression during that year. Less than 10% reported that they were depressed for the entire year. However, a larger proportion (19.1%) fulfilled criteria for MDE on consecutive interview cycles, suggesting either persistence or rapid recurrence. The mean number of detected MDEs among those with at least 1 detected MDE up to 2006 was 2. Positive family history, evidence of comorbidity, negative cognitive style, stress, pain, and smoking were associated with a more negative course.


The longitudinal course of MDE in the general population is heterogeneous, including a mixture of brief and more protracted MDEs. Many risk factors for MDE are also associated with a negative course, exceptions being (younger) age and sex. These epidemiologic observations may assist with identification of patients requiring more intensive management in clinical practice.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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