BACKGROUND: Despite its public health significance, data about depression in general practice are often unavailable.
OBJECTIVE: To study (i) the incidence of GP-diagnosed depression during 2008, (ii) associations between patient characteristics, appraised severity and initiated treatment, (iii) GPs' usual care compared to diagnostic criteria from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition guidelines and the newly developed practice guideline of the Society of Flemish GPs (2008) and (iv) GPs' initiated treatments compared to the Flemish Guideline.
METHODS: General practice-based data were collected on all patients of ≥18 years who were diagnosed by their GP with a new episode of depression in Belgian sentinel general practices (SGP) during 2008.
RESULTS: Data on 1739 persons were recorded by 172 sentinel general practices. Incidence rates for GP-diagnosed depression were estimated at 719/100 000 men and 1440/100 000 women. Thirty-one per cent of patients had mild, 50% had moderate and 19% had severe GP-diagnosed depression. Although only 43% of the patients at risk for suicide were considered to have severe depression, having thoughts of death or suicide was the main factor associated with increased severity of depression. Seventy-five per cent of patients received a prescription for an antidepressive agent; 29% received a prescription for another psychoactive agent; in 36%, non-pharmaceutical support was initiated by the GP and 25% received a referral. In contrast with the Flemish GP guideline criteria: (i) 69% of patients with a new episode of mild or a first episode of moderate depression were prescribed an antidepressive agent and (ii) only 39% of the patients with severe depression were both prescribed an antidepressive agent and referred to a mental health service.
CONCLUSIONS: This study has yielded original data on the incidence and management of depression in Belgian general practice. Our findings show that efforts are needed to improve depression management in Belgian general practice.