The diagnosis of depression and its treatment in Canadian primary care practices: an epidemiological study

CMAJ Open. 2014 Oct 1;2(4):E337-42. doi: 10.9778/cmajo.20140052. eCollection 2014 Oct.


Background: A diagnosis of depression is common in primary care practices, but data are lacking on the prevalence in Canadian practices. We describe the prevalence of the diagnosis among men and women, patient characteristics and drug treatment in patients diagnosed with depression in the primary care setting in Canada.

Methods: Using electronic medical record data from the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network, we examined whether the prevalence of a depression diagnosis varied by patient characteristics, the number of chronic conditions and the presence of the following chronic conditions: hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoarthritis, dementia, epilepsy and parkinsonism. We used regression models to examine whether patient characteristics and type of comorbidity were associated with a depression diagnosis.

Results: Of the 304 412 patients who had at least 1 encounter with their primary care provider between Jan. 1, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2012, 14% had a diagnosis of depression. Current or past smokers and women with a high body mass index had higher rates of depression. One in 4 patients with a diagnosis of depression also had another chronic condition; those with depression had 1.5 times more primary care visits. About 85% of patients with depression were prescribed medication, most frequently selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, followed by atypical antipsychotics.

Interpretation: Our data provide information on the prevalence of a depression diagnosis in primary care and associations with being female, having a chronic condition, smoking history and obesity in women. Our findings may inform research and assist primary care providers with early detection and interventions in at-risk patient populations.