JOURNAL ARTICLE
MULTICENTER STUDY
RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIAL

Depression, anxiety, and somatoform disorders: vague or distinct categories in primary care? Results from a large cross-sectional study

Gertraud Hanel, Peter Henningsen, Wolfgang Herzog, Nina Sauer, Rainer Schaefert, Joachim Szecsenyi, Bernd Löwe
Journal of Psychosomatic Research 2009, 67 (3): 189-97
19686874

OBJECTIVE: Depression, anxiety, and somatization are the most frequently observed mental disorders in primary health care. Our main objective was to draw on the often neglected general practitioners' (GPs) perspective to investigate what characterizes these three common mental diagnoses with regard to creating more suitable categories in the DSM-V and ICD-11.

METHODS: We collected independent data from 1751 primary care patients (participation rate=77%) and their 32 treating GPs in Germany. Patients filled out validated patient self-report measures for depression (PHQ-9), somatic symptom severity (PHQ-15), and illness anxiety (Whiteley-7), and questions regarding coping and attribution of illness. GPs' clinical diagnoses and associated features were assessed.

RESULTS: Patients diagnosed by their GPs with depression, anxiety, and/or somatoform disorders were significantly older, less educated, and more often female than the reference group not diagnosed with a mental disorder. They had visited the GP more often, had a longer duration of symptoms, and were more often under social or financial stress. Among the mental disorders diagnosed by the GPs, depression (OR=4.4; 95% CI=2.6 to 7.5) and comorbidity of somatoform, depressive, and anxiety disorders (OR=9.5; 95% CI=4.6 to 19.4) were associated with the largest degrees of impairment compared to the reference group. Patients diagnosed as having a somatoform/functional disorder only had mildly elevated impairment on all dimensions (OR=2.0; 95% CI=1.4 to 2.7). Similar results were found for the physicians' attribution of psychosocial factors for cause and maintenance of the disease, difficult patient-doctor relationship, and self-assessed mental disorder.

CONCLUSION: In order to make the DSM-V and ICD-11 more suitable for primary care, we propose providing appropriate diagnostic categories for (1) the many mild forms of mental syndromes typically seen in primary care; and (2) the severe forms of comorbidity between somatoform, depressive, and/or anxiety disorder, e.g., with a dimensional approach.

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