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Prevalence of depression and depressive symptoms among outpatients: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. Jinghui Wang1,
  2. Xiaohang Wu1,
  3. Weiyi Lai1,
  4. Erping Long1,
  5. Xiayin Zhang1,
  6. Wangting Li1,
  7. Yi Zhu1,2,
  8. Chuan Chen1,2,
  9. Xiaojian Zhong1,
  10. Zhenzhen Liu1,
  11. Dongni Wang1,
  12. Haotian Lin1
  1. 1State Key Laboratory of Ophthalmology, Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China
  2. 2Department of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Haotian Lin; haot.lin{at}


Objectives 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.

Design Systematic review and meta-analysis.

Data sources and eligibility criteria 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.

Results 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%, χ2=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%).

Conclusion 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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  • Contributors HL contributed to the study design, data analysis and interpretation and manuscript preparation. JW and XW wrote the first draft of the report. JW and XW performed the literature search. WLa, EL, XZha, WLi, ZL, XZho and DW independently reassessed the integrity and accuracy of the data results. HL, YZ and CC critically revised the manuscript. HL contributed to the research funding, coordinated the research and oversaw the project. All authors reviewed the manuscript for important intellectual content and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding The principal investigator of this study (HL) is currently supported by the Pearl River Scholar Program of Guangdong Province, the Outstanding Young Teacher Cultivation Projects in Guangdong Province (YQ2015006) and the Guangdong Provincial Natural Science Foundation for Distinguished Young Scholars of China (2014A030306030). The sponsors or funding organizations had no role in the design or performance of this study.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional data are available.

  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was published online. The affiliation of Haotian Lin has been corrected.

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