Primary Health Care Research & Development


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

Steve Iliffea1 c1, Georgina Williamsa2, Victoria Fernandeza3, Mar Vilaa3, Tami Kramera3a4, Julia Gledhilla3a4 and Lisa Millera2

a1 UCL, London, UK

a2 Lonsdale Medical Centre, Lonsdale, UK

a3 Academic Unit of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, Imperial College, London, UK

a4 CNWL NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK


Background 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.

Objectives 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.

Methods Semi-structured interviews transcribed and analysed thematically.

Findings 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.

Conclusions 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.

(Received April 10 2008)

(Accepted July 18 2008)

Key words

  • depression;
  • general practice;
  • teenagers;
  • young people


c1 Correspondence to: Dr Steve Iliffe, Research Department of Primary Care, UCL, Royal Free Campus, Rowland Hill Street, London NW3 2PF, UK. Email: