Background: Life events and social problems are common in primary-care attenders and contribute to the high rate of emotional distress observed in this setting but are often not disclosed during the consultation. Physicians' characteristics associated with patients' disclosure of psychosocial problems are well documented, but less empirical evidence is available on the contribution of patients' variables.
Method: Logistic regression analyses were performed on a set of clinical and psychosocial data from 319 primary-care attenders with stressful life events and/or social problems in the presence or absence of emotional distress, in order to identify the variables that predict disclosure of such problems during the consultation.
Results: Two-thirds of patients with stressful life events and social problems had mentioned them to their GP. In both sexes a positive attitude about confiding and emotional distress were the best predictors of confiding. In men they accounted for 76% of correct predictions and, in women, together with past confiding, long-lasting relationship with GP, and coexistence of life events and social problems, for 81%. A positive confiding attitude was related in males to age and severity of medical condition and in females to age and experience of past confiding.
Conclusions: In view of the high prevalence of positive attitude towards confiding the efforts by GPs should focus on the reduction of disclosure thresholds. This would require increased abilities to elicit psychosocial information and show emphatic understanding of patients' life difficulties. By contrast there is a need to promote a positive attitude in confiding that concerns only a minority of primary-care patients. More data are needed for shaping more specific strategies for these patients.