How do palliative medicine physicians assess and manage depression

Palliat Med. 2004 Apr;18(3):234-8. doi: 10.1191/0269216304pm865oa.


Depression is a significant symptom for approximately 25% of palliative care patients, but is frequently unrecognized and untreated. This study was carried out to determine how senior doctors working in palliative medicine in the UK assessed and managed depression in their patients. A questionnaire was sent to all palliative care units with a designated consultant or medical director. Questions were asked about assessment and management of depression (pharmacological and nonpharmacological); difficulties encountered, qualifications and current post. The response rate was 63%; two-thirds (90) of respondents were consultants and a further 21 medical directors. The majority (73%) routinely assessed for depression with 27% using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) Scale and 10% asking the patient 'are you depressed'? The most frequently prescribed medication was SSRI (80%). Less than 6% prescribed psychostimulants. Respondents reported difficulties with the assessment and management of depression which mainly focused on distinguishing symptoms of depression from sadness and whether it was appropriate to treat patients when life expectancy was short. Difficulties were identified in accessing psychiatric input by 47%. Depression is identified as being a difficult symptom to manage by many senior palliative care physicians in the UK and suggestions are made as to how some of theses issues can be addressed.

MeSH terms

  • Consultants
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital
  • Palliative Care*
  • Professional Practice*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Surveys and Questionnaires