Depression and Suicide Risk Screening: Updated Evidence Report and Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force

JAMA. 2023 Jun 20;329(23):2068-2085. doi: 10.1001/jama.2023.7787.


Importance: Depression is common and associated with substantial burden. Suicide rates have increased over the past decade, and both suicide attempts and deaths have devastating effects on individuals and families.

Objective: To review the benefits and harms of screening and treatment for depression and suicide risk and the accuracy of instruments to detect these conditions among primary care patients.

Data sources: MEDLINE, PsychINFO, Cochrane library through September 7, 2022; references of existing reviews; ongoing surveillance for relevant literature through November 25, 2022.

Study selection: English-language studies of screening or treatment compared with control conditions, or test accuracy of screening instruments (for depression, instruments were selected a priori; for suicide risk, all were included). Existing systematic reviews were used for treatment and test accuracy for depression.

Data extraction and synthesis: One investigator abstracted data; a second checked accuracy. Two investigators independently rated study quality. Findings were synthesized qualitatively, including reporting of meta-analysis results from existing systematic reviews; meta-analyses were conducted on original research when evidence was sufficient.

Main outcomes and measures: Depression outcomes; suicidal ideation, attempts, and deaths; sensitivity and specificity of screening tools.

Results: For depression, 105 studies were included: 32 original studies (N=385 607) and 73 systematic reviews (including ≈2138 studies [N ≈ 9.8 million]). Depression screening interventions, many of which included additional components beyond screening, were associated with a lower prevalence of depression or clinically important depressive symptomatology after 6 to 12 months (pooled odds ratio, 0.60 [95% CI, 0.50-0.73]; reported in 8 randomized clinical trials [n=10 244]; I2 = 0%). Several instruments demonstrated adequate test accuracy (eg, for the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire at a cutoff of 10 or greater, the pooled sensitivity was 0.85 [95% CI, 0.79-0.89] and specificity was 0.85 [95% CI, 0.82-0.88]; reported in 47 studies [n = 11 234]). A large body of evidence supported benefits of psychological and pharmacologic treatment of depression. A pooled estimate from trials used for US Food and Drug Administration approval suggested a very small increase in the absolute risk of a suicide attempt with second-generation antidepressants (odds ratio, 1.53 [95% CI, 1.09-2.15]; n = 40 857; 0.7% of antidepressant users had a suicide attempt vs 0.3% of placebo users; median follow-up, 8 weeks). Twenty-seven studies (n = 24 826) addressed suicide risk. One randomized clinical trial (n=443) of a suicide risk screening intervention found no difference in suicidal ideation after 2 weeks between primary care patients who were and were not screened for suicide risk. Three studies of suicide risk test accuracy were included; none included replication of any instrument. The included suicide prevention studies generally did not demonstrate an improvement over usual care, which typically included specialty mental health treatment.

Conclusions and relevance: Evidence supported depression screening in primary care settings, including during pregnancy and postpartum. There are numerous important gaps in the evidence for suicide risk screening in primary care settings.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Depression* / diagnosis
  • Depression* / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening* / adverse effects
  • Mass Screening* / methods
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Suicide*
  • Suicide, Attempted / prevention & control
  • United States


  • Antidepressive Agents