The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale: has the gold standard become a lead weight?

Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Dec;161(12):2163-77. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.161.12.2163.


Objective: The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale has been the gold standard for the assessment of depression for more than 40 years. Criticism of the instrument has been increasing. The authors review studies published since the last major review of this instrument in 1979 that explicitly examine the psychometric properties of the Hamilton depression scale. The authors' goal is to determine whether continued use of the Hamilton depression scale as a measure of treatment outcome is justified.

Method: MEDLINE was searched for studies published since 1979 that examine psychometric properties of the Hamilton depression scale. Seventy studies were identified and selected, and then grouped into three categories on the basis of the major psychometric properties examined-reliability, item-response characteristics, and validity.

Results: The Hamilton depression scale's internal reliability is adequate, but many scale items are poor contributors to the measurement of depression severity; others have poor interrater and retest reliability. For many items, the format for response options is not optimal. Content validity is poor; convergent validity and discriminant validity are adequate. The factor structure of the Hamilton depression scale is multidimensional but with poor replication across samples.

Conclusions: Evidence suggests that the Hamilton depression scale is psychometrically and conceptually flawed. The breadth and severity of the problems militate against efforts to revise the current instrument. After more than 40 years, it is time to embrace a new gold standard for assessment of depression.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychometrics
  • ROC Curve
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome