Symptom screening scales for detecting major depressive disorder in children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis of reliability, validity and diagnostic utility

Emily Stockings, Louisa Degenhardt, Yong Yi Lee, Cathrine Mihalopoulos, Angus Liu, Megan Hobbs, George Patton

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

164 Citations (Scopus)


Background Depression symptom screening scales are often used to determine a clinical diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) in prevention research. The aim of this review is to systematically examine the reliability, validity and diagnostic utility of commonly used screening scales in depression prevention research among children and adolescents.

Methods We conducted a systematic review of the electronic databases PsycINFO, PsycEXTRA and Medline examining the reliability, validity and diagnostic utility of four commonly used depression symptom rating scales among children and adolescents: the Children's Depression Inventory (CDI), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), Center for Epidemiologic Studies - Depression Scale (CES-D) and the Reynolds Adolescent Depression Scale (RADS). We used univariate and bivariate random effects models to pool data and conducted metaregression to identify and explain causes of heterogeneity.

Results We identified 54 studies (66 data points, 34,542 participants). Across the four scales, internal reliability was 'good' (pooled estimate: 0.89, 95% Confidence Interval (CI): 0.86-0.92). Sensitivity and specificity were 'moderate' (sensitivity: 0.80, 95% CI: 0.76-0.84; specificity: 0.78, 95% CI: 0.74-0.83). For studies that used a diagnostic interview to determine a diagnosis of MDD, positive predictive power for identifying true cases was mostly poor. Psychometric properties did not differ on the basis of study quality, sample type (clinical vs. nonclinical) or sample age (child vs. adolescent).

Limitations Some analyses may have been underpowered to identify conditions in which test performance may vary, due to low numbers of studies with adequate data.

Conclusions Commonly used depression symptom rating scales are reliable measures of depressive symptoms among adolescents; however, using cutoff scores to indicate clinical levels of depression may result in many false positives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-463
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Children and adolescents
  • Depression
  • Prevention
  • Psychiatric Symptom Rating Scales
  • Psychometrics
  • Validity

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