Depression deeper than we think

November 1, 1996

Half of all depression in patients visiting their family doctors goes undiagnosed, according to the early results of a psychiatric study carried out at Southampton University.

This revelation was made by Robert Peveler, senior lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Southampton, at Wednesday's conference of the Defeat Depression Campaign. The five-year campaign, now drawing to an end, aims to increase awareness of depression among health care professionals and in the workplace, and to encourage doctors to improve their management of the problem.

Dr Peveler is investigating general practitioners' attitudes to depression in a joint study with the university's department of primary medical care.

According to self-rating score cards completed by the 20,000 or so Southampton patients involved in the study, 7 per cent of patients who visit their family doctors show signs of depression. GPs treat nine out of ten patients seeking help for depression.

"The bad news is that only 50 per cent of depression is recognised, and often it is not treated effectively with the best drug therapies," he said.

Over the past two years, 160 GPs participating in the study have received educational input from a team from the university.

"Feedback has shown that we have been very successful in heightening awareness and improving the confidence of GPs and their management decisions," said Dr Peveler.

By Christmas, final analysis of the data will reveal whether better informed doctors lead to less downcast patients.

Dinesh Bhugra, senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, urges doctors to treat ethnic minority patients displaying the symptoms of depression with cultural sensitivity. His contribution to the depression-combating campaign is a project to evaluate Asian attitudes to depression and to evaluate the effectiveness of educational literature targeted at specific groups.

He said: "In the past, there was the notion of 'the happy savage' and depression was seen as a Western phenomenon. But now we know that it is a universal feeling with similar symptoms across cultures, even though certain languages don't have words to describe it.

"Seeking medical help can bring a bad name to the family, so many Asians will seek help from friends, religious leaders and family, but their attitude and knowledge can be changed."

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