The risk of developing major depression among individuals with subthreshold depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal cohort studies

Y. Y. Lee, E. A. Stockings, M. G. Harris, S. A.R. Doi, I. S. Page, S. K. Davidson, J. J. Barendregt

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Background Studies have consistently shown that subthreshold depression is associated with an increased risk of developing major depression. However, no study has yet calculated a pooled estimate that quantifies the magnitude of this risk across multiple studies.Methods We conducted a systematic review to identify longitudinal cohort studies containing data on the association between subthreshold depression and future major depression. A baseline meta-analysis was conducted using the inverse variance heterogeneity method to calculate the incidence rate ratio (IRR) of major depression among people with subthreshold depression relative to non-depressed controls. Subgroup analyses were conducted to investigate whether IRR estimates differed between studies categorised by age group or sample type. Sensitivity analyses were also conducted to test the robustness of baseline results to several sources of study heterogeneity, such as the case definition for subthreshold depression.Results Data from 16 studies (n = 67 318) revealed that people with subthreshold depression had an increased risk of developing major depression (IRR = 1.95, 95% confidence interval 1.28-2.97). Subgroup analyses estimated similar IRRs for different age groups (youth, adults and the elderly) and sample types (community-based and primary care). Sensitivity analyses demonstrated that baseline results were robust to different sources of study heterogeneity.Conclusion The results of this study support the scaling up of effective indicated prevention interventions for people with subthreshold depression, regardless of age group or setting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-102
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Incidence
  • longitudinal studies
  • major depressive disorder
  • meta-analysis
  • risk factors
  • subthreshold depression

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