'Do you think you suffer from depression?' Reevaluating the use of a single item question for the screening of depression in older primary care patients

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2010 May;25(5):497-502. doi: 10.1002/gps.2368.


Objectives: The majority of older adults seek depression treatment in primary care. Despite impressive efforts to integrate depression treatment into primary care, depression often remains undetected. The overall goal of the present study was to compare a single item screening for depression to existing depression screening tools.

Methods: A cross sectional sample of 153 older primary care patients. Participants completed several depression-screening measures (e.g. a single depression screen, Patient Health Questionnaire-9, Major Depression Inventory, Visual Analogue Scale). Measures were evaluated against a depression diagnosis made by the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV.

Results: Overall, 3.9% of the sample was diagnosed with depression. The most notable finding was that the single-item question, 'do you think you suffer from depression?' had as good or better sensitivity (83%) than all other screens. Nonetheless, its specificity of 83% suggested that it has to be followed up by a through diagnostic interview. Additional sensitivity analyses concerning the use of a single depression item taken directly from the depression screening measures supported this finding.

Conclusions: An easy way to detect depression in older primary care patients would be asking the single question, 'do you think you suffer from depression?'

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Primary Health Care / methods
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychometrics / instrumentation*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Surveys and Questionnaires