Recognition Of Emotional Distress In Physically Healthy Primary Care Patients Who Perceive Poor Physical Health

Olfson, Mark; Gilbert, Thomas; Weissman, Myrna M.; Blacklow, Robert S; Broadhead, W Eugene

This study examines the recognition and treatment of emotional distress in physically healthy primary care patients who perceive themselves to be in fair or poor physical health. Patients (N = 892) from three private primary care practices completed a mental health screening form prior to their medical visit which included an overall assessment of their physical health (1 = excellent, 2 = good, 3 = fair, 4 = poor). Following the visit, their physicians completed a questionnaire that included the same physical health assessment item. The study group, physically healthy patients who perceive poor physical health (HPPPH), included those patients who rated their physical health as 2 or 3 points more impaired than it was rated by their physician. HPPPH (N = 39) were significantly more likely than other patients (N = 853) to report a prior psychiatric hospitalization (p < 0.05), marital difficulties (p < 0.01), recent missed work due to a mental health problem (p < 0.001), and a range of anxiety, depressive, and psychosomatic symptoms. However, HPPPH were also significantly more likely than other patients to receive excellent emotional health ratings (p < 0.001) from their physicians and were less likely to receive mental health treatment (p < 0.05). Detection of emotional distress may be particularly difficult in physically healthy patients who have low physical health perceptions. Identification of pessimistic physical health perceptions may serve as an indicator for underlying emotional distress.


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General Hospital Psychiatry

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February 1, 2022