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J Am Board Fam Med. 2011 Jan-Feb;24(1):33-8. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2011.01.100121.

Prevalence, treatment, and control of depressive symptoms in the United States: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2005-2008.

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Morehouse School of Medicine, National Center for Primary Care, Atlanta, GA, USA.



depression remains a major public health problem that is most often evaluated and treated in primary care settings. The objective of this study was to examine the prevalence, treatment, and control of depressive symptoms in a national data sample using a common primary care screening tool for depression.


we analyzed a sample of adults (n = 4836) from 2005 to 2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data. Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) to determine the overall prevalence, rates of treatment, and antidepressant control of mild, moderate, moderately severe, and severe depressive symptoms.


of the sample, 20.1% reported significant depressive symptoms (PHQ-9) score, ≥ 5), the majority of whom had mild depressive symptoms (PHQ-9) score, 5-9). Even among individuals with severe depressive symptoms, a large percentage (36.9%) received no treatment from a mental health professional or with antidepressant medication. Of those taking antidepressants, 26.4% reported mild depressive symptoms and 18.8% had moderate, moderately severe, or severe depressive symptoms.


despite greater awareness and treatment of depression in primary care settings, the prevalence of depressive symptoms remains high, treatment levels remain low, and control of depressive symptoms are suboptimal. Primary care providers need to continue to focus their efforts on diagnosing and effectively treating this important disease.

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