Objective: Our goal was to compare the prevalence of mental illness and its impact on functional status in an indigent uninsured primary care population with a general primary care sample. We also hoped to assess patient preferences about mental health and medical service integration.
Study design: We compared a survey of consecutive primary care adults in April and May 1999 with a 1997-98 survey of 3000 general population primary care patients. Both studies used the Primary Care Evaluation of Mental Disorders Patient Health Questionnaire and the 20-question Medical Outcomes Study Short Form.
Population: The patients were from a private nonprofit primary care clinic in Grand Junction, Colorado, that served only low-income uninsured people. We approached a total of 589 consecutive patients and enrolled 500 of them.
Main outcome measure: The main outcomes were the prevalence of psychiatric illnesses and the relationship with functional impairment. We compared our findings with a more generalizable primary care population.
Results: This low-income uninsured population had a higher prevalence of 1 or more psychiatric disorders (51% vs 28%): mood disorders (33% vs 16%), anxiety disorders (36% vs 11%), probable alcohol abuse (17% vs 7%), and eating disorders (10% vs 7%). Having psychiatric disorders was associated with lower functional status and more disability days compared with not having mental illness. Patients indicated a preference for mental health providers and medical providers to communicate about their care.
Conclusions: This low-income uninsured primary care population has an extremely high prevalence of mental disorders with impaired function. It may be important in low-income primary care settings to include collaborative care designs to effectively treat common mental disorders, improve functional status, and enhance patient self-care.