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J Clin Psychiatry. 1994 Apr;55 Suppl:18-28.

Subsyndromal symptomatic depression: a new mood disorder?

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  • 1San Diego Psychopharmacology Research Program, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, La Jolla 92093-0603.


Secondary analyses in a subsample (N = 9160) of the National Institute of Mental Health Epidemiologic Catchment Area Program data base revealed that 19.6% of the general population reported one or more depressive symptoms in the previous month. One-year prevalence of two or more depressive symptoms in the general population was 11.8%, a prevalence figure exceeding the 9.5% 1-year prevalence for all the DSM-III mood disorders combined. We have labeled this potential clinical condition as subsyndromal symptomatic depression (SSD), defining it as any two or more simultaneous symptoms of depression, present for most or all of the time, at least 2 weeks in duration, associated with evidence of social dysfunction, occurring in individuals who do not meet criteria for diagnoses of minor depression, major depression, and/or dysthymia. SSD has a 1-year prevalence in the general population of 8.4%, two thirds of whom are women (63.4%). The most common SSD symptoms reported are insomnia (44.7%), feeling tired out all the time (42.1%), recurrent thoughts of death (31.0%), trouble concentrating (22.7%), significant weight gain (18.5%), slowed thinking (15.1%), and hypersomnia (15.1%). Increased prevalence of disability and welfare benefits was found in SSD as compared with respondents with no depressive symptoms. SSD represents a significant clinical population not covered by any DSM-III, DSM-III-R, or DSM-IV mood disorder diagnosis. Since SSD is also associated with significant increases in social dysfunction and disability, we feel there is good evidence to conclude that SSD is an unrecognized clinical condition of considerable public health importance that is deserving of further characterization and study.

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