Suffering in silence: Reasons for not disclosing depression in primary care

Robert A Bell, Peter Franks, Paul R. Duberstein, Ronald M. Epstein, Mitchell D. Feldman, Erik Fernandez y Garcia, Richard L Kravitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


PURPOSE Depression symptoms are underreported by patients. We thus assessed individuals' reasons for not disclosing depression to their primary care physician. METHODS We conducted a follow-up telephone survey of 1,054 adults who had participated in the California Behavioral Risk Factor Survey System. Respondents were asked about reasons for nondisclosure of depressive symptoms to their primary care physician, depression-related beliefs, and demographic characteristics. Descriptive and inferential statistical procedures were used to characterize perceived obstacles to disclosure. RESULTS Of the respondents, 43% reported 1 or more reasons for nondisclosure. The most frequent reason was the concern that the physician would recommend antidepressants (22.9%; 95% confidence interval, 18.8%-27.5%). Reported reasons for nondisclosure of depression varied based on whether the respondent had a history of depression. For example, respondents with no depression history were more likely to believe that depression falls outside the purview of primary care (P =.040) and more likely to fret about being referred to a psychiatrist (P =.036). Respondents with clinically significant depressive symptoms rated 10 of 11 barriers to disclosure as more personally applicable than did those without symptoms (all P values ≤.014). Number of reported disclosure barriers was predicted by demographic characteristics (being female, Hispanic, of low socioeconomic status), depression beliefs (depression is stigmatizing and should be under one's control), symptom severity, and absence of a family history of depression. CONCLUSIONS Many adults subscribe to beliefs likely to inhibit explicit requests for help from their primary care physician during a depressive episode. Interventions should be developed to encourage patients to disclose their depression symptoms and physicians to ask about depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)439-446
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of Family Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • Communication barriers
  • Depression
  • Disclosure
  • Primary health care
  • Social stigma
  • Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


Dive into the research topics of 'Suffering in silence: Reasons for not disclosing depression in primary care'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this