Open Access Open Badges Research article

Prevention of anxiety disorders in primary care: A feasibility study

Neeltje M Batelaan12*, Jan H Smit12, Pim Cuijpers23, Harm WJ van Marwijk24, Berend Terluin24 and Anton JLM van Balkom12

Author affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, VU University Medical Center and GGZ inGeest, AJ Ernststraat 1187, Amsterdam, 1081 HL, The Netherlands

2 EMGO-institute, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 Department of Clinical Psychology, VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

4 Department of General Practice, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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Citation and License

BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:206  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-206

Published: 22 November 2012



Anxiety disorders are highly prevalent in primary care and cause a substantial burden of disease. Screening on risk status, followed by preventive interventions in those at risk may prevent the onset of anxiety disorders, and thereby reduce the disease burden. The willingness to participate in screening and interventions is crucial for the scope of preventive strategies, but unknown. This feasibility study, therefore, investigated participation rates of screening and preventive services for anxiety disorders in primary care, and explored reasons to refrain from screening.


In three general practices, screening was offered to individuals visiting their general practitioner (total nā€‰=ā€‰2454). To assess risk status, a 10-item questionnaire was followed by a telephone interview (including the CIDI) when scoring above a predefined threshold. Preventive services were offered to those at risk. Participation rates for screening and preventive services for anxiety disorders were assessed. Those not willing to be screened were asked for their main reason to refrain from screening.


Of all individuals, 17.3% participated in initial screening, and of those with a possible risk status, 56.0% continued screening. In 30.1% of those assessed, a risk status to develop an anxiety disorder was verified. Of these, 22.6% already received some form of mental health treatment and 38.7% of them agreed to participate in a preventive intervention and were referred. The most frequently mentioned reasons to refrain from screening were the emotional burden associated with elevated risk status, the assumption not to be at risk, and a lack of motivation to act upon an elevated risk status by using preventive services.


Screening in general practice, followed by offering services to prevent anxiety disorders in those at risk did not appear to be a feasible strategy due to low participation rates. To enable the development of feasible and cost-effective preventive strategies, exploring the reasons of low participation rates, considering involving general practitioners in preventive strategies, and looking at preventive strategies in somatic health care with proven feasibility may be helpful.

Anxiety disorders; Prevention; Public Mental Health; Screening