Objectives: The purposes of this study were to (1) characterize the social disability associated with the common psychiatric illnesses of primary care patients in terms of role dysfunction (self-care, family role, social role, occupational role) and (2) establish whether severity of psychiatric illness and disability level show synchrony of change.
Methods: A two-stage sample design was employed. In the first stage, 1994 consecutive attenders of 25 general practitioners were screened on psychiatric illness by their physicians and with the General Health Questionnaire. A stratified random sample (n = 285) with differing probabilities was selected for a second-stage interview. Patients with psychiatric symptoms were reinterviewed 1 and 3.5 years later (n = 143).
Results: (1) Disability level among patients was increased (moderately for depression, mildly for anxiety) and was associated with severity of psychiatric illness. (2) Most disability was found in occupational and social roles. (3) Change in severity of psychiatric illness was concordant with change in level of disability and was largely invariant across diagnosis (depression, anxiety, mixed anxiety/depression). At follow-up, disability among improved patients had returned to normal levels.
Conclusions: Psychiatric illness in primary care patients is associated with mild to moderate disability, and severity of psychiatric illness and disability show synchrony of change.