Case identification in psychiatric epidemiology: a review

Int Rev Psychiatry. 2007 Oct;19(5):497-507. doi: 10.1080/09540260701564906.


Background: Psychiatric epidemiologic surveys since 1980 have relied heavily on a small number of survey diagnostic instruments for case ascertainment, which encode reports of respondents to highly structured interview questions delivered by interviewers without clinical training. Many validations of these survey diagnostic instruments have been carried out.

Objective: This paper reviews the success of the survey diagnostic instruments, for eight diagnostic categories, in validations with a psychiatrist examination as the gold standard.

Method: Public databases were searched for potentially relevant publications, of which more than 1000 were located. Tables show sensitivity, specificity, Kappa, sample source and size, survey instrument and validation method.

Results: The number of validation studies relevant to the eight disorders ranged from 8 for schizophrenia to 29 for major depressive disorder. Reported sensitivities ranged from zero to 100%, and specificities from 22% to 100%.

Conclusion: Results for common mental disorders such as major depressive disorder, alcohol disorder, drug disorder, and agoraphobic disorder are better than for panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The validity of case ascertainment in psychiatric epidemiology is still in question.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Language
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales*
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychotic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Psychotic Disorders / genetics
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity