Background: Current knowledge about the long-term outcome of depression is largely based on the results of studies performed with the small selection of patients who are referred to psychiatric professionals. However, because of the high prevalence of depression in the community and in primary care, information about the longterm outcome in these populations is indispensable if physicians are to offer the best possible care in these settings.
Methods: We performed a literature search to identify relevant papers published between 1970 and 1999 on original long-term follow-up studies of depression in community and primary care populations. The included studies were of adult populations with depression based on diagnostic criteria and a follow-up of at least 5 years. Data about recurrences, relapses, psychopathology, disability, or quality of life at follow-up were examined.
Results: We found 8 studies that fulfilled our criteria. The reported rates of recurrence or depression at follow-up were between 30% and 40%. Higher rates were found in the younger and older age groups. Data about other predictors of outcome, health status, and the relation between treatment and outcome did not justify any hard conclusions.
Conclusions: The long-term outcome of depression in the community and in primary care is rarely studied. The results of available studies are difficult to compare because of the large differences in populations and methods. Nevertheless, these studies suggest that the longterm prognosis of depression in the community and in primary care is not as poor as in psychiatry.