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Common mental disorder diagnosis and need for treatment are not the same: findings from a population-based longitudinal survey

  • J. Sareen (a1), C. A. Henriksen (a2), M. B. Stein (a3), T. O. Afifi (a4), L. M. Lix (a5) and M. W. Enns (a1)...

Controversy exists regarding whether people in the community who meet criteria for a non-psychotic mental disorder diagnosis are necessarily in need of treatment. Some have argued that these individuals require treatment and that policy makers need to develop outreach programs for them, whereas others have argued that the current epidemiologic studies may be diagnosing symptoms of distress that in many cases are self-limiting and likely to remit without treatment. All prior studies that have addressed this issue have been cross-sectional. We examined the longitudinal outcomes of individuals with depressive, anxiety and substance use (DAS) disorder(s) who had not previously received any treatment.


Data came from a nationally representative US sample. A total of 34 653 non-institutionalized adults (age ≥20 years) were interviewed at two time points, 3 years apart. DAS disorders, mental health service use and quality of life (QoL) were assessed at both time points.


Individuals with a DAS disorder who had not previously received any treatment were significantly more likely than those who had been previously treated to have remission of their index disorder(s) without subsequent treatment, to be free of co-morbid disorder(s) and not to have attempted suicide during the 3-year follow-up period (50.7% v. 33.0% respectively, p < 0.05). At wave 2, multiple linear regression demonstrated that people with a remission of their baseline DAS disorder(s) had levels of functioning similar to those without a DAS disorder.


Individuals with an untreated DAS disorder at baseline have a substantial likelihood of remission without any subsequent intervention.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: J. Sareen, M.D., PZ430-771 Bannatyne Avenue, Winnipeg, MB, CanadaR3E 3N4. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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