Expert Commentary

Screening for Depression in the Primary Care Setting

Larry Culpepper, MD, MPH

Professor and Chair
Department of Family Medicine
Boston University
Division of Family Medicine
Boston Medical Center
Boston, MA

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recently updated its statement on the recommendations for screening for depression in primary care settings. While depression screening programs are shown to improve health outcomes, this is dependent on the correct diagnosis of the mood disorder, appropriate treatment plans, and strong staff-assisted depression care supports. Here, Dr. Culpepper describes the development of a new screening test for mood disorders. The M-3 test ( can be rapidly and effectively applied in the primary care setting and offers benefits over other screens for depression by being able to easily differentiate between different psychiatric disorders.


  1. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for depression in adults: U.S. preventive services task force recommendations statement. Ann Intern Med. 2009;151(11)784-92.
  2. O’Connor EA, Whitlock EP, et al. Screening for depression in adults patients in primary care settings: a systematic evidence review. Ann Intern Med. 2009;151(11)793-803.
  3. Gaynes BN, DeVeaugh-Geiss J, et al. Feasibility and diagnostic validity of the M-3 checklist: a brief, self-rated screen for depressive, bipolar, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders in primary care. Ann Fam Med. 2010;8(2);160-9.
  4. Gilbody S, Richards D, et al. Screening for depression in medical settings with the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ): a diagnostic meta-analysis. J Gen Intern Med. 2007;22(11):1596-602.
  5. Angst J, Azorin JM, et al. Prevalence and characteristics of undiagnosed bipolar disorders in patients with a major depressive episode; the BRIDGE study. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(8):791-8.
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