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One thousand patients attending a general practice surgery were asked to complete the general health questionnaire as the first stage of screening for hidden minor psychiatric disorders. Those who had an unexpectedly high score of 20 or more were randomly allocated to doctors or health visitors for treatment. After one year, these two groups were reinterviewed by the doctors and health visitors respectively and comparable rates of recovery were found. After five years, they were interviewed again and a second general health questionnaire completed. It was found that both groups had improved significantly, and that there was no significant difference between them.
Poor outcome was associated with problems with children, household or neighbours and with a previous history of psychiatric illness. Improvement was associated with physical treatment of the original disorder, resolution of the original problem and job satisfaction.
The implication of these findings for the comparative management of minor psychiatric disorders by general practitioners and non-medical health workers in primary care are discussed.