BACKGROUND. Variation in the management of depression may be linked to doctors' attitudes to depression. AIM. A study was undertaken comparing the attitudes to depression between general practitioners and psychiatrists. METHOD. A sample of 74 general practitioners and 65 psychiatrists in Wales was surveyed by postal questionnaire. Attitudes were assessed by the depression attitude questionnaire and patient management was assessed by a questionnaire on prescribing practice. RESULTS. General practitioners differed significantly from psychiatrists in attitudes, particularly in areas covering professional ease in dealing with patients with depression and identification of depression. Those general practitioners who reported use of low antidepressant doses were significantly more likely than general practitioners prescribing standard doses to believe in psychotherapeutic treatments. Users of short-term continuation therapy expressed a lack of therapeutic optimism and comfort in dealing with depressed patients. CONCLUSION. General practitioners and psychiatrists differ significantly in their attitudes to depression. The attitudes which vary among general practitioners reflect practice. The depression attitude questionnaire may prove useful in indicating how educational initiatives to improve primary care detection and management should be directed.