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, 16 (9), 606-13

The PHQ-9: Validity of a Brief Depression Severity Measure


The PHQ-9: Validity of a Brief Depression Severity Measure

K Kroenke et al. J Gen Intern Med.


Objective: While considerable attention has focused on improving the detection of depression, assessment of severity is also important in guiding treatment decisions. Therefore, we examined the validity of a brief, new measure of depression severity.

Measurements: The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) is a self-administered version of the PRIME-MD diagnostic instrument for common mental disorders. The PHQ-9 is the depression module, which scores each of the 9 DSM-IV criteria as "0" (not at all) to "3" (nearly every day). The PHQ-9 was completed by 6,000 patients in 8 primary care clinics and 7 obstetrics-gynecology clinics. Construct validity was assessed using the 20-item Short-Form General Health Survey, self-reported sick days and clinic visits, and symptom-related difficulty. Criterion validity was assessed against an independent structured mental health professional (MHP) interview in a sample of 580 patients.

Results: As PHQ-9 depression severity increased, there was a substantial decrease in functional status on all 6 SF-20 subscales. Also, symptom-related difficulty, sick days, and health care utilization increased. Using the MHP reinterview as the criterion standard, a PHQ-9 score > or =10 had a sensitivity of 88% and a specificity of 88% for major depression. PHQ-9 scores of 5, 10, 15, and 20 represented mild, moderate, moderately severe, and severe depression, respectively. Results were similar in the primary care and obstetrics-gynecology samples.

Conclusion: In addition to making criteria-based diagnoses of depressive disorders, the PHQ-9 is also a reliable and valid measure of depression severity. These characteristics plus its brevity make the PHQ-9 a useful clinical and research tool.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Relationship between depression severity as measured by the PHQ-9 and decline in functional status as measured by the 6 subscales of the SF-20. The decrement in SF-20 scores are shown as the difference between each PHQ-9 severity group and the nondepressed reference group (i.e., those with PHQ-9 scores of 0 to 4). Effect size is the difference in group means divided by the standard deviation of the entire sample.

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