Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
CMAJ. 2012 Feb 21;184(3):E191-6. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.110829. Epub 2011 Dec 19.

Optimal cut-off score for diagnosing depression with the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9): a meta-analysis.

Author information

  • 1Department of Health Sciences, York University, York, UK.



The brief Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) is commonly used to screen for depression with 10 often recommended as the cut-off score. We summarized the psychometric properties of the PHQ-9 across a range of studies and cut-off scores to select the optimal cut-off for detecting depression.


We searched Embase, MEDLINE and PsycINFO from 1999 to August 2010 for studies that reported the diagnostic accuracy of PHQ-9 to diagnose major depressive disorders. We calculated summary sensitivity, specificity, likelihood ratios and diagnostic odds ratios for detecting major depressive disorder at different cut-off scores and in different settings. We used random-effects bivariate meta-analysis at cutoff points between 7 and 15 to produce summary receiver operating characteristic curves.


We identified 18 validation studies (n = 7180) conducted in various clinical settings. Eleven studies provided details about the diagnostic properties of the questionnaire at more than one cut-off score (including 10), four studies reported a cut-off score of 10, and three studies reported cut-off scores other than 10. The pooled specificity results ranged from 0.73 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.63-0.82) for a cut-off score of 7 to 0.96 (95% CI 0.94-0.97) for a cut-off score of 15. There was major variability in sensitivity for cut-off scores between 7 and 15. There were no substantial differences in the pooled sensitivity and specificity for a range of cut-off scores (8-11).


The PHQ-9 was found to have acceptable diagnostic properties for detecting major depressive disorder for cut-off scores between 8 and 11. Authors of future validation studies should consistently report the outcomes for different cut-off scores.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central Icon for PubMed Health
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk