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[Masked depression: the rise and fall of a diagnosis].

OBJECTIVE: The diagnosis of "masked depression" was very common in the 70'es and 80'es for patients with somatic complaints without an organic counterpart, when a psychic illness was assumed. Today this diagnosis does not play an important role any more - neither clinically nor scientifically. This article examines the background of the enormous initial importance of this diagnostic concept and of its final abandonment.

METHODS: Critical reflection of the literature.

RESULTS: The main reason for the immense success of that diagnosis was the tempting possibility of subsuming patients with a multitude of only unsatisfactorily explicable and treatable somatic symptoms under one single concept. In addition, this concept allowed to derive a uniform treatment, i.e. pharmacotherapy with antidepressants. Several problems inherent in the diagnosis of masked depression finally led to the dropping of that concept: the expansion of that diagnosis onto a vast number of disorders, the continuing lack of clarity of the concept (disorder of recognition vs. disorder of communication; the positive proof of psychic symptoms as a prerequisite vs. the positive proof of psychic symptoms as an exclusion criterion for that diagnosis). Last but not least, the introduction of DSM-III and ICD-10 as operationalized, purely descriptive and rather theory-free systems of diagnostic classification supported that development.

CONCLUSIONS: The present diagnoses for those patients re-emphasize the somatic symptomatology. Formerly "masked depressed" patients are now diagnosed as suffering from somatization disorder, somatoform disorder, psychosomatic disorder, conversion disorder, neurasthenia or hypochondriasis.

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