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Encephale. 2009 Dec;35(6):560-9. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2008.06.018.

[Prevalence of psychiatric disorders in French general practice using the patient health questionnaire: comparison with GP case-recognition and psychotropic medication prescription].

[Article in French]

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Inserm U888, hôpital La Colombière, université Montpellier, Pavillon 42, 39, avenue Charles-Flahault, 34093 Montpellier cedex 5, France.



Psychiatric disorders, mainly depression and anxiety, are frequently encountered in primary care and are a major cause of distress and disability. Nearly half of cases go unnoticed and among those that are recognised, many do not receive adequate treatment. In France, there is limited research concerning the prevalence, detection and management of these conditions in primary care.


To estimate the prevalence of psychiatric disorders, overall and for the main psychiatric diagnostic categories, encountered in primary care; to describe general practitioners' (GPs') case identification rate; to examine psychotropic medication prescription according to diagnosis, in a regionally representative sample of GP attenders.


GP practicing standard general practice in an urban area of the city of Montpellier and a nearby semi-rural region were recruited to participate. The response rate was 32.8% (n=41). Five additional GP almost exclusively offering homeopathy and acupuncture were recruited nonrandomly for convenience purposes. In each GP surgery, consecutive patients entering the waiting room were invited by a research assistant to participate until 25 patients per GP were recruited. Each participant completed self-report questionnaires in the waiting time, including the patient health questionnaire (PHQ), which yields provisional DSM-IV diagnoses. The GP completed a brief questionnaire during the consultation, giving his/her rating of the severity of any psychiatric disorder present and action taken.


The patient response rate was 89.8%. In all, 14.9% of patients reached DSM-IV criteria for major depression or anxiety disorder on the PHQ (9.1% for major depression, 7.5% for panic disorder; 6% for other anxiety disorders). For the subthreshold categories, 7.4% met criteria for other depressive disorders, 11.8% for somatoform disorders and 10.9% for probable alcohol abuse or dependence. 66.3% of patients with DSM-IV diagnoses of major depression or anxiety disorder were identified by the GP as having a psychiatric disorder. The identification rate was 51% for all depressive disorders, anxiety and somatoform disorders. Of patients receiving a prescription for anxiolytic or antidepressant medication on the survey day, 80% were classified as cases of psychiatric disorder by the GP. Only 48.8% met criteria for major depression or anxiety disorder on the PHQ.


This study highlights the frequency of psychiatric disorders in a regional study of French general practice. Overall, prevalence rates were similar to those found elsewhere, except for probable alcohol abuse and dependence, which was considerably higher than in the USA PHQ validation study. As in other countries, GP identified roughly half of psychiatric cases. Furthermore, half of patients treated by anxiolytic or antidepressant medication did not meet the diagnostic criteria on the survey day for which these medications have mainly shown their efficacy. This confirms the French paradox of one of the highest psychotropic medication consumption rates in Europe despite many cases of depression remaining untreated. The PHQ could be a rapid and acceptable diagnostic aid tool for French general practice but first needs to be validated against the diagnosis of mental health professionals in this setting.

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