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Why Do Some Depressed Outpatients Who Are in Remission According to the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale Not Consider Themselves to Be in Remission?

J Clin Psychiatry 2012;73(6):790-795

Objective: In treatment studies of depression, remission is typically defined narrowly, based on scores on symptom severity scales. Patients treated in clinical practice, however, define the concept of remission more broadly and consider functional status, coping ability, and life satisfaction as important indicators of remission status. In the present report from the Rhode Island Methods to Improve Diagnostic Assessment and Services project, we examined how many depressed patients in ongoing treatment who scored in the remission range on the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating scale (HDRS) did not consider themselves to be in remission from their depression. Among the HDRS remitters, we compared the demographic and clinical characteristics of patients who did and did not consider themselves to be in remission.

Method: From March 2009 to July 2010, we interviewed 274 psychiatric outpatients diagnosed with DSM-IV major depressive disorder who were in ongoing treatment. The patients completed measures of depressive and anxious symptoms, psychosocial functioning, and quality of life.

Results: Approximately one-half of the patients scoring 7 and below on the HDRS (77 of 140 patients for whom self-reported remission status was available) did not consider themselves to be in remission. The self-described remitters had significantly lower levels of depression and anxiety than the patients who did not consider themselves to be in remission (P < .001). Compared to patients who did not consider themselves to be in remission, the remitters reported significantly better quality of life (P < .001) and less functional impairment due to depression (P < .001). Remitters were significantly less likely to report dissatisfaction in their mental health (P < .01), had higher positive mental health scores (P < .001), and reported better coping ability (P < .001).

Conclusions: Some patients who meet symptom-based definitions of remission nonetheless experience low levels of symptoms or functional impairment or deficits in coping ability, thereby warranting a modification in treatment. The findings raise caution in relying exclusively on symptom-based definitions of remission to guide treatment decision-making in clinical practice.

J Clin Psychiatry 2012; 73(6): 790-795