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BACKGROUND: Around 1% of adults are repeatedly referred from primary to secondary care with medically unexplained symptoms (MUS); many of these patients have depression and anxiety disorders which are unrecognized or inadequately treated. We aimed to investigate the ways patients with MUS and their General Practitioners (GPs) interpret low mood and worry, whether they regard them as depressive or anxiety disorders and how they relate them causally to symptoms. METHODS: We carried out semi-structured interviews with 27 patients who had been repeatedly referred to specialists for MUS and their GPs and analysed transcripts by qualitative comparison. The analysis examined themes relating to low mood and worry, and their influence on symptoms. It drew on the concept of "otherness", whereby mental phenomena can be located either within the self or as separate entities. RESULTS: Both patients and GPs acknowledged the presence of low mood and worry. They viewed low mood as either an individual's personal response to circumstances (including their physical symptoms) or as the illness called "depression"; only the latter was amenable to medical intervention. Worry was seen as a trait rather than as a symptom of an anxiety disorder. While low mood and worry were acknowledged to influence physical symptoms, they were considered insufficient to be the main cause by either the patients or their doctors. CONCLUSIONS: Patients with MUS who are high users of secondary care services interpret low mood and worry in ways which allow them to be discussed with professionals, but not as the cause of their physical symptoms.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Fam Pract

Publication Date





Adult, Anxiety Disorders, Attitude of Health Personnel, Attitude to Health, Depression, Depressive Disorder, Female, General Practice, General Practitioners, Humans, Interviews as Topic, Male, Medical Records, Middle Aged, Patients, Physician-Patient Relations, Qualitative Research, Referral and Consultation, Somatoform Disorders