General practitioners are the psychiatrists' most important coworkers in the treatment of depressive disorders. A high degree of knowledge about this illness in this group of doctors is of decisive importance. However, the value of postgraduate educational programs for general practitioners has been questioned. The Swedish Committee for the Prevention and Treatment of Depression (PTD) offered an educational program on symptoms, etiology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of depression to all general practitioners on the Swedish island of Gotland. Lectures on suicide, depressive illness in childhood and in old age and psychotherapy of depressive states were also given. In several control periods data were collected on suicides, referrals to the local psychiatric department, emergency admissions, the quantity of sick leave used and the quantity of inpatient care due to depression. Even the prescription of psychopharmacological drugs on the island was investigated. Overall, the results indicated that general practitioners gratefully accepted the educational program and achieved increasing competence and stringency in treating and preventing depressive states. The program was associated with decreases in the use of psychiatric inpatient care and the sick leave frequency of depressed patients. The possibility of preventing suicides was positively influenced.
During the years 1983-1984, an educational program was given to all general practitioners on the island of Gotland. This report evaluates changes in prescription habits from 1982 to 1985. To correct for general trends that occurred simultaneously, the prescription habits were compared to the habits in the rest of Sweden. Both on Gotland and in Sweden as a whole, the use of antidepressants increased from 1982-1985, but significantly more on Gotland. In 1982, the use of antidepressants was low on Gotland, 54% of that in the rest of Sweden. After the educational programs, Gotland reached 77% of the use in the rest of Sweden. In 1982, the use of lithium was 123% of that in the rest of Sweden. After the educational programs, the use of lithium was unchanged, and a small increase of 5.6% was seen in the rest of Sweden. After the educational programs, the prescription of sedatives on Gotland decreased (-8.2%), and an increase of 4.5% was seen in the rest of Sweden. The use of major tranquilizers also decreased significantly (-23%) on Gotland. Even in the rest of Sweden, a significant but much smaller decrease was seen: -13%. On Gotland the frequency of hypnotics remained stable from 1982-1985, and a significant increase was seen in the rest of Sweden.
In 1983-1984 the Swedish Committee for the Prevention and Treatment of Depression offered an educational program on diagnosis and treatment of depressive disorders to all general practitioners on the island of Gotland. The program has been carefully evaluated; 1982 was used as the baseline and the main evaluation was carried out in 1985. After the educational programs, the frequency of sick leave for depressive disorders decreased, the frequency of inpatient care for depressive disorders decreased to 30% of that at the baseline; the prescription of antidepressants increased, but prescription of major tranquilizers, sedatives and hypnotics decreased. The frequency of suicide on the island decreased significantly. This study describes the long-term effects. In 1988, 3 years after the project ended, the inpatient care for depressive disorders increased, the suicidal rate returned almost to baseline values and the prescription of antidepressants stabilized. Thus, the effects were strictly related in time to the educational programs, indicating that the effects were real and not only a coincidence with local trends on Gotland. Furthermore, the results indicate that educational programs that can have pronounced effects on the health care system have to be repeated approximately every 2 years if long-term effects are to be expected.