Background: Depression is generally regarded as a serious, incapacitating illness. Although effective treatment strategies are available, timely recognition remains a stumbling block. We investigated the rates of health service uptake among depressed people and the specific depressive symptoms associated with service use, after adjustment for other illness characteristics and sociodemographic variables. Methods: In a representative sample (n=7076) of the Dutch adult population, we identified 1572 subjects with lifetime major or minor depression, using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Results: The majority (73%) of subjects with depression had sought specialised mental health care, or to a lesser extent primary care. As expected, those with more severe (vegetative), complex (anxiety-comorbid) or dangerous symptoms (suicidal ideation) were more likely to be treated in the specialised mental health sector. However, subjects with comorbid substance use dependence were less likely to receive care, especially primary care, and those with more education were more likely to receive specialised care, even after adjustment for illness characteristics. Limitations: The use of lifetime measures of depression and service use may have introduced slight recall bias, but it made the assessments less vulnerable to selection bias for chronic cases and to misclassification of subjects with some lifetime treatment experience. Conclusions: Although care for people with depression is readily accessible in the Netherlands, people with less education and people with comorbid substance use dependence remain unnecessarily out of reach of the care services. Primary care services need to be strengthened to enable the broad-scale application of stepped-care strategies.