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Improving mental health through integration with primary care in rural Karnataka: study protocol of a cluster randomized control trial



People who are diagnosed with both mental and chronic medical illness present unique challenges for the health care system. In resource-limited settings, such as rural India, people with depression and anxiety are often under-served, due to both stigma and lack of trained providers and resources. These challenges can lead to complications in the management of chronic disease as well as increased suffering for patients, families and communities. In this study, we evaluate the effects of integrating mental health and chronic disease treatment of patients in primary health care (PHC) settings using a collaborative care model to improve the screening, diagnosis and treatment of depression in rural India.


This study is a multi-level randomized controlled trial among patients with depression or anxiety and co-morbid diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. Aim 1 examines whether patients screened at community health-fairs are more likely to be diagnosed and treated for these co-morbid conditions than patients screened after presenting at PHCs. Aim 2 evaluates the impact of collaborative care compared to usual care in a cluster RCT, randomizing at the level of the PHCs. Intervention arm PHC staff are trained in mental health diagnoses, treatment, and the collaborative care model. The intervention also involves community-based "Healthy Living groups" co-led by Ashas, using cognitive-behavioral strategies to promote healthy behaviors. The primary outcome is severity of common mental disorders, with secondary outcomes being diabetes and cardiovascular risk, staff knowledge and patient perceptions.


If effective, our results will contribute to the field in five ways: 1) expand on implementation research in low resource settings by examining how multiple chronic diseases can be treated using integrated low-cost, evidence-based strategies, 2) build the capacity of PHC staff to diagnose and treat mental illness within their existing clinic structure and strengthen referral linkages; 3) link community members to primary care through community-based health fairs and healthy living groups; 4) increase mental health awareness in the community and reduce mental health stigma; 5) demonstrate the potential for intervention scale-up and sustainability.

Trial registration : NCT02310932 registered December 8, 2014 URL: ; Clinical Trials Registry India: CTRI/2018/04/013001 retrospectively registered on April 4, 2018.

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