BACKGROUND Little is known about psychiatric disorders in adolescents who attend primary care.
METHOD Prospective study of 13- to 16-year-olds consecutively attending general practice. Information was obtained from adolescents, parents and general practitioners, using questionnaires and research interviews.
RESULTS 136/200 (68%) of adolescent attenders took part. Two per cent presented with psychiatric complaints. From research interviews with adolescents, psychiatric disorder in the previous year was found in 38%, with moderate impairment of functioning in over half (according to Children's Global Assessment Scale scores). Most disorders (42/50, 84%) were emotional ('internalising') disorders. Psychiatric disorders were significantly associated with high levels and intensity of physical symptoms and with increased health risks. General practitioner assessment of psychiatric disorders was low on sensitivity (20.8%) but high on specificity (90.7%). Doctors identified most severely affected adolescents.
CONCLUSIONS Depressive and anxiety disorders are common among adolescent general practice attenders and linked to increased physical symptoms; general practitioner recognition is limited.