Background: In spite of evidence from controlled trials and published guidelines, general practitioners prescribe antidepressants in lower doses and for shorter courses than are recommended . However, these studies have not examined the effect of ethnicity on antidepressant prescribing by general practitioners.
Objectives: To compare the antidepressant treatment of South Asian patients with White patients.
Methods: Patients, between 16 and 65 years prescribed an antidepressant between November 1993-1995, were selected from an east London training practice by searching the practice computer system EMIS. From a total of 438 patients identified, 40 cases were selected on the basis of their surname  as South Asian, and 50 cases formed the White comparison group. Data was collected retrospectively from the computer and paper records and analysed using Stata. The main outcome measures were presenting symptoms, maximum dose of antidepressant prescribed, duration of treatment and continuity of care.
Results: Women formed 2/3 of each group, the mean age in both groups being similar. Psychological symptoms were noted in the majority of both groups, but South Asians presented more physical complaints than the White group (67.5% compared to 22%, Chi squared=18.86, P=0.00001). The South Asian group were significantly more likely to be prescribed amitriptyline at doses of 75 mg or less than the White group (Fisher exact 2 tailed test, P=0.008), had significantly shorter median durations of antidepressant treatment (60 days, compared with 160 days for the White group, Mann Whitney test P=0.005). No differences were found between the groups in their continuity of care.
Conclusion: The results suggest that successful drug treatment of depressed South Asian patients may be less likely than in White patients.