"Are you depressed?" Screening for depression in the terminally ill

Am J Psychiatry. 1997 May;154(5):674-6. doi: 10.1176/ajp.154.5.674.


Objective: This study compared the performance of four brief screening measures for depression in a group of terminally ill patients. The methods included 1) a single-item interview assessing depressed mood, 2) a two-item interview assessing depressed mood and loss of interest in activities, 3) a visual analog scale for depressed mood, and 4) the Beck Depression Inventory-Short Form.

Method: Semistructured diagnostic interviews for depression were administered to 197 patients receiving palliative care for advanced cancer. The interview diagnoses served as the standards against which the screening performance of the four brief screening methods was assessed.

Results: Single-item interview screening correctly identified the eventual diagnostic outcome of every patient, substantially outperforming the questionnaire and visual analog measures.

Conclusions: Brief screening measures for depression are important clinical tools for terminally ill patients. For diagnostic purposes, however, they do not approach the validity of a single-item interview that asks, in effect, "Are you depressed?"

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality Inventory
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminally Ill / psychology*