Does providing personalized depression risk information lead to increased psychological distress and functional impairment? Results from a mixed-methods randomized controlled trial

Psychol Med. 2022 Aug;52(11):2071-2079. doi: 10.1017/S0033291720003955. Epub 2020 Nov 4.


Background: Multivariable risk algorithms (MVRP) predicting the personal risk of depression will form an important component of personalized preventive interventions. However, it is unknown whether providing personalized depression risk will lead to unintended psychological harms. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the impact of providing personalized depression risk on non-specific psychological distress and functional impairment over 12 months.

Methods: A mixed-methods randomized controlled trial was conducted in 358 males and 354 females who were at high risk of having a major depressive episode according to sex-specific MVRPs, and who were randomly recruited across Canada. Participants were assessed at baseline, 6 and 12 months.

Results: Over 93% of participants were interested in knowing their depression risk. The intervention group had a greater reduction in K10 score over 12 months than the control group; complete-case analysis found a significant between-group difference in mean K10 change score (d = 1.17, 95% CI 0.12-2.23) at 12 months. Participants in the intervention group also reported significantly less functional impairment in the domains of home and work/school activities, than did those in the control group. A majority of the qualitative interviewees commented that personalized depression risk information does not have a negative impact on physical and mental health.

Conclusions: This study found no evidence that providing personalized depression risk information will lead to worsening psychological distress, functional impairment, and absenteeism. Provision of personalized depression risk information may have positive impacts on non-specific psychological distress and functioning.

Trial registration: NCT02943876.

Keywords: Major depression; personalized depression risk information; psychological distress; psychological harms; risk communication.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Psychological Distress*

Associated data


Grant support