Depression Complexity Prevalence and Outcomes Among Veterans Affairs Patients in Integrated Primary Care

Duncan G. Campbell, Anayansi Lombardero, Ivie English, Thomas J. Waltz, Katherine J. Hoggatt, Barbara F. Simon, Andrew B. Lanto, Alissa Simon, Lisa V. Rubenstein, Edmund F. Chaney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Introduction: The Veterans Health Administration (VA) Primary Care-Mental Health Integration (PC-MHI) initiative targets depression (MDD), anxiety/posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol misuse (AM) for care improvement. In primary care, case finding often relies on depression screening. Whereas clinical practice guidelines solely inform management of depression, minimal information exists to guide treatment when psychiatric symptom clusters coexist. We provide descriptive clinical information for care planners about VA PC patients with depression alone, depression plus alcohol misuse, and depression with complex psychiatric comorbidities (PTSD and/or probable bipolar disorder). Method: We examined data from a VA study that used a visit-based sampling procedure to screen 10,929 VA PC patients for depression; 761 patients with probable major depression completed baseline measures of health and care engagement. Follow-up assessments were completed at 7 months. Results: At baseline, 53% of patients evidenced mental health conditions in addition to depression; 10% had concurrent AM, and 43% had psychiatrically complex depression (either with or without AM). Compared with patients with depression alone or depression with AM, those with psychiatrically complex depression evinced longer standing and more severe mood disturbance, higher likelihood of suicidal ideation, higher unemployment, and higher levels of polypharmacy. Baseline depression complexity predicted worse mental health status and functioning at follow-up. Discussion: A substantial proportion of VA primary care patients with depression presented with high medical multimorbidity and elevated safety concerns. Psychiatrically complex depression predicted lower treatment effectiveness, suggesting that PC-MHI interventions should co-ordinate and individualize care for these patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-45
Number of pages11
JournalFamilies, Systems and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 4 2021


  • Collaborative care
  • Depression complexity
  • Integrated behavioral health
  • Primary care


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