Patients' view on screening for depression in general practice

Fam Pract. 2008 Dec;25(6):438-44. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmn057. Epub 2008 Oct 3.


Background: In general practice, depression is often not recognized. As treatment of depression is effective, screening has been proposed as one solution to combat this 'hidden morbidity'. The results of screening programmes for depression, however, are inconsistent and most studies do not show a positive effect on patient outcomes. Patients do not always accept this diagnosis and hence do not receive proper treatment. Nothing is known about the tendency of those patients who screen positive for depression to accept treatment for their 'disclosed' disorder.

Objective: In this study, we aimed to better understand the views of patients who screened positive in a screening programme for depression.

Methods: We performed a qualitative study with semi-structured in-depth interviews with 17 patients. These adult patients (nine females), all suffering from major depressive disorder, were disclosed by a screening programme for depression performed within 11 Dutch general practices. The transcripts were independently analysed by two researchers using MAXqda2.

Results: All patients appreciated the active way in which they were approached for screening. Fifteen of the 17 patients recognized the depressive symptoms but nine of them did not accept the diagnosis. The first explanation for resistance to the diagnosis of depression is fear of stigmatization and scepticism about the usefulness of labelling. Secondly, patients experienced their depressive symptoms as a normal and transitory reaction to adversity. Thirdly, patients had doubts about the necessity and effectiveness of treatment. Depressive symptoms, such as feelings of guilt, self-depreciation and fatigue, hamper help-seeking behaviour.

Conclusions: We conclude that some patients with undisclosed depression, who took the trouble of going through a complete screening programme, felt aversion to being diagnosed as having depression. In the context of screening for depression, we recommend that the patients' view on depression be elicited before diagnosing and offering treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Qualitative Research