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Arch Fam Med. 1995 Feb;4(2):99-105.

Recognition, management, and outcomes of depression in primary care.

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Center for Health Studies, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Seattle, WA.



To evaluate the recognition, management, and outcomes of depressed patients presenting in primary care.


Epidemiologic survey with 12-month follow-up.


Primary care clinics of a staff-model health maintenance organization.


Consecutive primary care attenders aged 18 to 65 years (n = 1952) were screened using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), and a stratified random sample (n = 373) completed a psychiatric assessment, including the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI), the 28-item GHQ, and a brief self-rated disability questionnaire (BDQ). Three-month follow-up assessment (n = 347) repeated the GHQ-28 and BDQ, and 12-month follow-up (n = 308) repeated the CIDI, GHQ-28, and BDQ. Use of psychotropic drugs and mental health services was assessed using computerized pharmacy and visit registration records.


Structured interviews found 64 cases of current major depression (weighted prevalence, 6.6%) and 58 cases of current subthreshold depression (weighted prevalence, 8.8%). Of those with major depression, 64% (n = 41) were recognized as psychologically distressed by the primary care physician, 56% (n = 36) filled at least one antidepressant prescription during the next 3 months, and 39% (n = 25) made at least one specialty mental health visit. Compared with recognized cases, those with unrecognized major depression were less symptomatic at baseline (GHQ-28 score, 15.31 vs 11.07; P = .006) but showed a similar rate of improvement over 12 months (F test for difference in slopes, P = .93).


While many depressed primary care patients may go unrecognized and untreated, this group appears to have milder and more self-limited depression. A narrow focus on increased recognition may not improve overall outcomes. Treatment resources might be best directed toward more intensive follow-up and relapse prevention among those now treated.

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[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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