BACKGROUND Little is known about the outcome of common mental disorders (CMD) in primary care attenders in low income countries.
METHOD Two and 12 month (T1 and T2) follow-up of a cohort of cases of CMD (n = 199) recruited from primary health, traditional medical practitioner, and general practitioner clinics in Harare, Zimbabwe. The Shona Symptom Questionnaire (SSQ) was the measure of caseness.
RESULTS The persistence of case level morbidity was recorded in 41% of subjects at 12 months. Of the 134 subjects interviewed at both follow-up points, 49% had recovered by T1 and remained well at T2 while 28% were persistent cases at both T1 and T2. Higher SSQ scores, a psychological illness model, bereavement and disability predicted a poor outcome at both times. Poorer outcome at T1 only was associated with a causal model of witch-craft and an unhappy childhood. Caseness at follow-up was associated with disability and economic deprivation.
CONCLUSIONS A quarter of cases of CMD were likely to be ill throughout the 12 month follow-up period. Targeting risk groups for poor outcome for interventions and policy interventions to reduce the impact of economic deprivation may provide a way of tackling CMD in primary care in low income countries.