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J Nerv Ment Dis. 2008 Apr;196(4):289-96. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e31816a496e.

The development of valid subtypes for depression in primary care settings: a preliminary study using an explanatory model approach.

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  • 1Department of Family and Social Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, USA.


A persistent theme in the debate on the classification of depressive disorders is the distinction between biological and environmental depressions. Despite decades of research, there remains little consensus on how to distinguish between depressive subtypes. This preliminary study describes a method that could be useful, if implemented on a larger scale, in the development of valid subtypes of depression in primary care settings, using explanatory models of depressive illness. Seventeen depressed Hispanic patients at an inner city general practice participated in explanatory model interviews. Participants generated illness narratives, which included details about symptoms, cause, course, impact, health seeking, and anticipated outcome. Two distinct subtypes emerged from the analysis. The internal model subtype was characterized by internal attributions, specifically the notion of an "injured self." The external model subtype conceptualized depression as a reaction to life situations. Each subtype was associated with a distinct constellation of clinical features and health seeking experiences. Future directions for research using explanatory models to establish depressive subtypes are explored.

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