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Psychosocial aetiology of chronic disease: a pragmatic approach to the assessment of lifetime affective morbidity in an EPIC component study


OBJECTIVES The Health and Life Experiences Questionnaire (HLEQ) was developed for use in a prospective cohort study of 25 000 men and women living in Norfolk and forms a component study of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). The HLEQ includes an assessment of mood status over the life course allowing a limited capacity for the imposition of diagnostic criteria to enable eventual evaluation of mental health status for chronic disease outcomes. This paper reports estimates of HLEQ Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) prevalence and compares them with those obtained through interviewer-based methods. In addition evidence for the impact of recall, clustering or cohort effects on these estimates are examined.

PARTICIPANTS 3491 eligible respondents to EPIC in Norfolk, aged 45–74 years, recruited from the first five general practices who completed the HLEQ.

MAIN RESULTS MDD prevalence estimates were found to be closely comparable to those obtained recently (by interview) in the UK and to those lifetime MDD rates determined through international studies. Risk of MDD onset was found to vary with age as expected from earlier studies using interviewer-based assessments. Limited evidence was found to show that the distribution of first onset MDD episodes were compressed during the immediate pre-assessment period. Results were also consistent with previous evidence demonstrating the raised risk of MDD among women and of the decline in gender differences with advancing age.

CONCLUSIONS These results suggest that estimates of putative MDD diagnostic status, derived through the HLEQ, and of associated demographic risk are similar to those derived by more intensive and costly assessment methods. Implications for the future study of MDD both as an outcome and as a risk factor for chronic disease are discussed.

  • depression
  • epidemiology
  • prevalence

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  • Funding: the Medical Research Council.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.