Depression and public health: an overview

J Psychosom Res. 2002 Oct;53(4):849-57. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3999(02)00304-5.


Depressive disorders are a significant public health issue. They are prevalent, disabling, often chronic illnesses, which cause a high economic burden for society, related to both direct and indirect costs. Depressive disorders also influence significantly the outcome of comorbid medical illnesses such as cardiac diseases, diabetes, and cancer. In primary care, underrecognition and undertreatment of depressive disorders are common, despite their relatively high prevalence, which accounts typically for more than 10% of patients. Primary care physicians should be aware of the common risk factors for depressive disorders such as gender, neuroticism, life events and adverse childhood experiences, and they should be familiar with associated features such as a positive psychiatric family history and prior depressive episodes. In primary care settings, depressive disorders should be considered with patients with multiple medical problems, unexplained physical symptoms, chronic pain or use of medical services that is more frequent than expected. Management of depressive disorders in primary care should include treatment with the newer antidepressant agents (given the fact they are typically well tolerated and safe) and focus on concomitant unhealthy behaviors as well as treatment adherence, which may both affect patient outcome. Programs aimed at improving patient follow-up and the coordination of the primary care intervention with that of specialists have been found to improve patient outcomes and to be cost effective.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Chronic Disease
  • Comorbidity
  • Depressive Disorder / economics
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology
  • Heart Diseases / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Primary Health Care* / economics
  • Public Health*
  • United States / epidemiology