Primary care, depression, and anxiety: exploring somatic and emotional predictors of mental health status in adolescents

J Am Board Fam Med. 2012 May-Jun;25(3):291-9. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2012.03.110056.


Introduction: A growing body of research points to regular, comprehensive mental health screening in primary care practices as an effective tool, but a thorough and efficient approach is not yet widely used. The purpose of this report is to describe the pattern of mental health-related concerns, protective and social risk factors reported by adolescents during routine well-child visits in primary care settings, and their occurrence among teens that screen positive for either depression or anxiety with brief validated measures.

Methods: A personal digital assistant-based questionnaire was administered as part of clinical care to adolescents 11 to 18 years old (N = 2184) attending preventive well-child visits in 13 pediatric and family medicine primary care practices in a northern New England practice-based research network over 18 months (2008 to 2009). Depressive and anxiety-related symptoms were assessed using the 2-question versions of the Patient Health Questionnaire and Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale, respectively. Analyses determined the role that the protective and social risk factors played in determining who screens positive for depression and anxiety.

Results: In the fully adjusted model, risk factors that were significant (P < .05) predictors for a positive screen of depression included substance use (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 2.05); stress (AOR, 3.59); anger (AOR, 1.94); and worries about family alcohol and drug use (AOR, 2.69). Among protective factors, that is, those that reduce the risk of depression, age (AOR, 0.87 for younger patients); having parents who listen (AOR, 0.34); and having more assets (AOR, 0.65) were significant. Significant predictors of screening positive for anxiety included substance use (AOR, 1.97); stress (AOR, 6.10); anger (AOR, 2.31); trouble sleeping (AOR, 1.75), and the sex of the adolescent (AOR, 1.87 for girls). Although having parents who listen was still a significant protective factor for anxiety (AOR, 2.26), other assets were not significant.

Conclusions: Comprehensive primary care mental health screening that considers both anxiety and depression while including strength-based and psychosocial support questions is a helpful adjunct to clinical practices and has been done routinely by using an electronic tool at the point of care. Because certain common somatic and emotional concerns can precede depression and anxiety, routine screening for these issues along with depression and anxiety screening is suggested.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child
  • Computers, Handheld
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mental Health*
  • New Hampshire / epidemiology
  • Odds Ratio
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • Somatoform Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vermont / epidemiology
  • Young Adult