GPs offered help to identify depression

FAMILY doctors fail to diagnose depression in half of affected cases, Dr Alastair Donald, president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said yesterday.

As part of Depression Awareness Week, launched yesterday, depression and suicide 'checklists' are being offered to family doctors and other health professionals to help them recognise a condition that affects 1 in 20 people.

The yellow card, which shows how to assess degrees of depression from mild to 'suicide risk', tells doctors not to neglect to treat depression if they are also treating a physical illness. It reminds them that suicidal thoughts may be present even in mild depression.

The week, part of a campaign run by the Royal College of Psychiatrists with the support of the general practitioners, is aimed at removing the stigma from depressive illness. Dr Donald said that for two years GPs had been concerned about raising awareness of the problem and about how to treat it. But now they wanted to educate the public in the importance of recognising symptoms early.

Many patients gave their doctors no clues about their mental health. Dr Andre Tylee, senior lecturer in general practice and the Royal College of General Practitioners' mental health education fellow, said 60 per cent said they would be embarrassed to talk to their GP about being depressed; 67 per cent thought the GP might think them 'neurotic'; and 46 per cent feared the GP would not be sympathetic.

'It is essential that people feel they can be upfront about it and say to their GP at the start of an interview that they think they might be depressed,' he said.