Depressive symptoms and psychiatric distress in low income Asian and Latino primary care patients: prevalence and recognition

Community Ment Health J. 2003 Feb;39(1):33-46. doi: 10.1023/a:1021221806912.


The aims of the study were to: (a) assess the degree to which primary care physicians recognize psychiatric distress among an ethnically diverse primary care sample composed primarily of Asians and Hispanics; and (b) to investigate the relationship between patient and physician sociodemographic factors and overall diagnostic recognition of psychiatric distress. The study sample is comprised of 252 consecutively-selected patients and eleven primary care general internists from general medicine clinics in a large public ambulatory medical center. The measures used were the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale, a demographic questionnaire, and an acculturation scale; these measures were completed during interviews conducted by trained bilingual research assistants. Physicians completed a mental health treatment summary immediately after the patient's visit. Hierarchical logistic regression analyses were performed in order to examine: (1) the degree to which providers identified psychiatric distress and (2) overall diagnostic recognition among this sample in relation to demographic characteristics and degree of acculturation. As measured by the CES-D, almost one half (47.3%) of the Latino and 41.6% ofthe Asian patients had depressive symptoms indicative of psychiatric distress. In contrast, physicians identified 43.8% of Latino patients and only 23.6% of Asian patients as being psychiatrically distressed (p < .01). Physicians were more likely to classify Latinos and those with higher acculturation status as distressed (p < .01 and p < .05, respectively). Higher patient acculturation status was the only factor significantly associated with overall diagnostic recognition (p < .05), as measured by physician agreement with the CES-D. Being Asian and/or having low acculturation levels may put the patient at risk for non-detection of psychiatric distress. The high prevalence of distress lends support to initiating improved methods for screening and detection of depression among low income and racially diverse primary care patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation
  • Adult
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Ethnic Groups / psychology*
  • Ethnic Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Hispanic Americans / psychology*
  • Hispanic Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires