Objectives - To present the results obtained from a cross-sectional evaluation of a sample of primary care attenders selected in Verona in the framework of the World Health Organization International Multicentre Study on Psychological Problems in Primary Care Settings. Methods - Among consecutive attenders at 16 primary care clinics in Verona during the period April 1991/February 1992, a random sample, stratified on the basis of GHQ-12 scores, was selected for a thorough evaluation of psychological status, physical status and disability in occupational and other daily activities. All patients with psychopathological symptoms at baseline assessment and a 20% random sample of those without psychopathological symptoms were interviewed again after 3 and 12 months (data not presented here). Results - Overall, 1,656 subjects were approached at the primary care clinics and 1,625 met inclusion criteria. The screening procedure was completed by 1,558 subjects and the second-stage evaluation by 250. Psychiatric disorders according to ICD-10 criteria were diagnosed in 12.4% of consecutive primary care attenders; of these, about one-third (4.5% of consecutive primary care attenders) satisfied ICD-10 diagnostic criteria for two or more disorders. Current Depressive Episode (4.7%) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (3.7%) were the most common diagnoses. In addition, 11.2% of consecutive primary care attenders had ‘sub-threshold’ psychiatric disorders (i.e., they suffered from symptoms in at least two different areas among those listed in ICD-10, but they did not satisfy diagnostic criteria for well-defined disorders). Psychiatric disorders were more common among females and those aged 24-44 years. Only 20.6% of the subjects with psychiatric disorders contacted the general practitioner for their psychological symptoms, 5.7% complained of symptoms which might have had a psychological origin, whereas in about 70% of the cases the psychiatric disorder was concealed behind the presentation of somatic symptoms, pains in various parts of the body or chronic physical illness. Sixty-two percent of the subjects with psychiatric disorders rated their health status as fair or poor, as compared to 52.0% of those with chronic physical illness and 31.3% of those without such disorders. According to the general practitioner, 40.1% of the subjects with psychiatric disorders and 45.3% of those with chronic physical illness had a fair or poor health status, compared to 14.4% of those without such disorders. Disability in occupational and other daily activities was reported by 52.5% of the subjects with psychiatric disorders (in 40.1% of the cases disability was moderate or severe), 44.4% of those with chronic physical illness (in 26.8% of the cases disability was moderate or severe), and 15.0% of the subjects without such disorders (in 9.1% of the cases disability was moderate or severe). According to the interviewer, disability was identified in 48.4% of the subjects with psychiatric disorders, 39.0% of those with chronic physical illness, and 27.6% of the subjects without such disorders. Sixty per cent of the subjects with psychiatric disorders suffered from concurrent chronic physical illness; these subjects had a poorer health status and higher disability levels than those with psychiatric disorders only. Conclusions - Psychiatric disorders among primary care attenders are frequent and represents a major public health problem, since they entail severe functional limitations for the patients and high costs for the society. Thus, appropriate programs for their recognition and treatment are needed.