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The association between chronic illness, multimorbidity and depressive symptoms in an Australian primary care cohort

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Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology Aims and scope Submit manuscript



To assess the link between multimorbidity, type of chronic physical health problems and depressive symptoms


The study was a cross-sectional postal survey conducted in 30 General Practices in Victoria, Australia as part of the diamond longitudinal study. Participants included 7,620 primary care attendees; 66% were females; age range from 18 to 76 years (mean = 51years SD = 14); 81% were born in Australia; 64% were married and 67% lived in an urban area. The main outcome measures include the Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) and a study-specific self-report check list of 12 common chronic physical health problems.


The prevalence of probable depression increased with increasing number of chronic physical conditions (1 condition: 23%; 2 conditions: 27%; 3 conditions: 30%; 4 conditions: 31%; 5 or more conditions: 41%). Only 16% of those with no listed physical conditions recorded CES-D scores of 16 or above. Across the listed physical conditions the prevalence of ‘probable depression’ ranged from 24% for hypertension; 35% for emphysema; 35% for dermatitis to 36% for stroke. The dose–response relationship is reduced when functional limitations and self-rated health are taken into account, suggesting that these factors mediate the relationship.


A clear dose–response relationship exists between the number of chronic physical problems and depressive symptoms. The relationship between multimorbidity and depression appears to be mediated via self-perceived health related quality of life. Primary care practitioners will identify more cases of depression if they focus on those with more than one chronic health problem, no matter what the problems may be, being especially aware in the group who rate their health as poor/fair.

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The diamond study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (ID 299869, 454463 & 566511) and the Victorian Centre for Excellence in Depression and Related Disorders, an initiative between beyondblue and the Victorian Government. Neither funding body had a role in study design; the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; the writing of the manuscript; or the decision to submit this manuscript for publication. The listed authors submit this paper on behalf of the diamond project team, including the investigators and researchers involved in the study: A/Professor Kelsey Hegarty, Dr Grant Blashki, Dr Gail Gilchrist, Professor Michael Kyrios, Professor Dimity Pond, Ms Vanessa Madden, Dr David Pierce, Ms Maria Potiriadis, Ms Melina Ramp, Dr Lena Sanci, Dr Jane Sims, Ms Donna Southern, and the casual research staff. We are grateful to the thirty dedicated GPs, their patients and practice staff for making this research possible.

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All authors declare that the answer to the questions on competing interest form are all ‘No’ and therefore have nothing to declare.

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Correspondence to Jane M. Gunn.

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Gunn, J.M., Ayton, D.R., Densley, K. et al. The association between chronic illness, multimorbidity and depressive symptoms in an Australian primary care cohort. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 47, 175–184 (2012).

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