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Open Access Open Badges Research article

The explanatory models of depression and anxiety in primary care: a qualitative study from India

Gracy Andrew1*, Alex Cohen2*, Shruti Salgaonkar1 and Vikram Patel12

Author Affiliations

1 Sangath, Goa, India

2 London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:499  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-499

Published: 12 September 2012



The biggest barrier to treatment of common mental disorders in primary care settings is low recognition among health care providers. This study attempts to explore the explanatory models of common mental disorders (CMD) with the goal of identifying how they could help in improving the recognition, leading to effective treatment in primary care.


The paper describes findings of a cross sectional qualitative study nested within a large randomized controlled trial (the Manas trial). Semi structured interviews were conducted with 117 primary health care attendees (30 males and 87 females) suffering from CMD. Main findings of the study are that somatic phenomena were by far the most frequent presenting problems; however, psychological phenomena were relatively easily elicited on probing. Somatic phenomena were located within a biopsychosocial framework, and a substantial proportion of informants used the psychological construct of ‘tension’ or ‘worry’ to label their illness, but did not consider themselves as suffering from a ‘mental disorder’. Very few gender differences were observed in the descriptions of symptoms but at the same time the pattern of adverse life events and social difficulties varied across gender.


Our study demonstrates how people present their illness through somatic complaints but clearly link their illness to their psychosocial world. However they do not associate their illness to a ‘mental disorder’ and this is an important phenomenon that needs to be recognized in management of CMD in primary settings. Our study also elicits important gender differences in the experience of CMD.