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General practitioners’ understanding of depression in young people: qualitative study

  • Steve Iliffe (a1), Georgina Williams (a2), Victoria Fernandez (a3), Mar Vila (a3), Tami Kramer (a3) (a4), Julia Gledhill (a3) (a4) and Lisa Miller (a2)...

Depression in young people is not necessarily self-limiting, and is frequently associated with affective disorders and impaired psychosocial functioning in adult life. Early recognition of and response to depression in teenagers could be an important task for general practitioners (GPs), but there are multiple obstacles to achieving this.


To explore GPs perceptions of the opportunities and difficulties of working with teenagers, and of specifically recognizing and responding to depression.

Setting and participants

Nine GPs who had taken part in a developmental project on diagnosing and treating depression in young people. All worked in an Inner London Medical Centre.


Semi-structured interviews transcribed and analysed thematically.


Two over-arching themes that emerged from the interviews were that teenagers were perceived as being qualitatively different from adults in the ways they used general practice, and that GPs were uncomfortable with making a diagnosis of depression in young people. Within the first theme, we identified sub-themes, including failure of teenagers to engage with services, parental involvement, complex presentations and lack of time. Within the second theme, the sub-themes were surprise, normalization of depressed mood and challenge to the validity of psychiatric diagnosis in this age group.


Professional development in general practice that addresses this topic needs to modify two perceptions; that depressed mood is in some sense ‘normal’ in this age group, and that teenagers are so different in their use of services that the management of depression (if it is recognized at all) is problematic.

Corresponding author
Correspondence to: Dr Steve Iliffe, Research Department of Primary Care, UCL, Royal Free Campus, Rowland Hill Street, London NW3 2PF, UK. Email:
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Primary Health Care Research & Development
  • ISSN: 1463-4236
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