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Ann Fam Med. 2011 Sep-Oct;9(5):439-46. doi: 10.1370/afm.1277.

Suffering in silence: reasons for not disclosing depression in primary care.

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Departments of Communication and Public Health Sciences, University of California, Davis, Davis, California 95616, USA.



Depression symptoms are underreported by patients. We thus assessed individuals' reasons for not disclosing depression to their primary care physician.


We conducted a follow-up telephone survey of 1,054 adults who had participated in the California Behavioral Risk Factor Survey System. Respondents were asked about reasons for nondisclosure of depressive symptoms to their primary care physician, depression-related beliefs, and demographic characteristics. Descriptive and inferential statistical procedures were used to characterize perceived obstacles to disclosure.


Of the respondents, 43% reported 1 or more reasons for nondisclosure. The most frequent reason was the concern that the physician would recommend antidepressants (22.9%; 95% confidence interval, 18.8%-27.5%). Reported reasons for nondisclosure of depression varied based on whether the respondent had a history of depression. For example, respondents with no depression history were more likely to believe that depression falls outside the purview of primary care (P=.040) and more likely to fret about being referred to a psychiatrist (P=.036). Respondents with clinically significant depressive symptoms rated 10 of 11 barriers to disclosure as more personally applicable than did those without symptoms (all P values =.014). Number of reported disclosure barriers was predicted by demographic characteristics (being female, Hispanic, of low socioeconomic status), depression beliefs (depression is stigmatizing and should be under one's control), symptom severity, and absence of a family history of depression.


Many adults subscribe to beliefs likely to inhibit explicit requests for help from their primary care physician during a depressive episode. Interventions should be developed to encourage patients to disclose their depression symptoms and physicians to ask about depression.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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