A difference that matters: comparisons of structured and semi-structured psychiatric diagnostic interviews in the general population
journal contributionposted on 14.09.2006, 15:08 by Traolach S. Brugha, Paul E. Bebbington, Rachel Jenkins
Psychiatric case-identification in general populations allows us to study both individuals with functional psychiatric disorders and the populations from which they come. The individual level of analysis permits disorders to be related to factors of potential aetiological significance and the study of attributes of the disorders that need to be assessed in non-referred populations (an initially scientific endeavour). At the population level valid case identification can be used to evaluate needs for treatment and the utilization of service resources (a public health project). Thus, prevalence is of interest both to scientists and to those responsible for commissioning and planning services (Brugha et al. 1997; Regier et al. 1998). The quality of case identification techniques and of estimates of prevalence is thus of general concern (Bartlett & Coles, 1998). Structured diagnostic interviews were introduced into general population surveys in the 1970s as a method ‘to enable interviewers to obtain psychiatric diagnoses comparable to those a psychiatrist would obtain’ (Robins et al. 1981). The need to develop reliable standardized measures was partly driven by an earlier generation of prevalence surveys showing rates ranging widely from 10·9% (Pasamanick et al. 1956) to 55% (Leighton et al. 1963) in urban and rural North American communities respectively. If the success of large scale psychiatric epidemiological enquiries using structured diagnostic interviews and standardized classifications is measured in terms of citation rates it would seem difficult to question. But the development of standardized interviews of functional psychiatric disorders has not solved this problem of variability: the current generation of large scale surveys, using structured diagnostic interviews and serving strictly defined classification rules, have generated, for example, 12-month prevalence rates of major depression in the US of 4·2% (Robins & Regier, 1991) and 10·1% (Kessler et al. 1994). This calls into question the validity of the assessments, such that we must reopen the question of what they should be measuring and how they should do it.