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BMJ Open. 2017 Aug 23;7(8):e017173. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017173.

Prevalence of depression and depressive symptoms among outpatients: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Author information

State Key Laboratory of Ophthalmology, Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, People's Republic of China.
Department of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida, USA.



Depression and depressive symptoms are common mental disorders that have a considerable effect on patients' health-related quality of life and satisfaction with medical care, but the prevalence of these conditions varies substantially between published studies. The aim of this study is to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis to provide a precise estimate of the prevalence of depression or depressive symptoms among outpatients in different clinical specialties.


Systematic review and meta-analysis.


The PubMed and PsycINFO, EMBASE and Cochrane Library databases were searched to identify observational studies that contained information on the prevalence of depression and depressive symptoms in outpatients. All studies included were published before January 2016. Data characteristics were extracted independently by two investigators. The point prevalence of depression or depressive symptoms was measured using validated self-report questionnaires or structured interviews. Assessments were pooled using a random-effects model. Differences in study-level characteristics were estimated by meta-regression analysis. Heterogeneity was assessed using standard χ2 tests and the I2 statistic. The study protocol has been registered with PROSPERO under number CRD42017054738.


Eighty-three cross-sectional studies involving 41 344 individuals were included in this study. The overall pooled prevalence of depression or depressive symptoms was 27.0% (10 943/41 344 individuals; 95% CI 24.0% to 29.0%), with significant heterogeneity between studies (p<0.0001, τ2=0.3742, I2=96.7%). Notably, a significantly higher prevalence of depression and depressive symptoms was observed in outpatients than in the healthy controls (OR 3.16, 95% CI 2.66 to 3.76, I2=72.0%, χ 2 =25.33). The highest depression/depressive symptom prevalence estimates occurred in studies of outpatients from otolaryngology clinics (53.0%), followed by dermatology clinics (39.0%) and neurology clinics (35.0%). Subgroup analyses showed that the prevalence of depression and depressive symptoms in different specialties varied from 17.0% to 53.0%. The prevalence of depression and depressive symptoms was higher among outpatients in developing countries than in outpatients from developed countries. Moreover, the prevalence of depression and depressive symptoms in outpatients slightly decreased from 1996 to 2010. Regarding screening instruments, the Beck Depression Inventory led to a higher estimate of the prevalence of depression and depressive symptoms (1316/4702, 36.0%, 95% CI 29.0% to 44.0%, I2=94.8%) than the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (1003/2025, 22.0%, 95% CI 12.0% to 35.0%, I2=96.6%).


Our study provides evidence that a significant proportion of outpatients experience depression or depressive symptoms, highlighting the importance of developing effective management strategies for the early identification and treatment of these conditions among outpatients in clinical practice. The substantial heterogeneity between studies was not fully explained by the variables examined.


mental health; meta-analysis

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