Global Burden of Disease estimates of depression - how reliable is the epidemiological evidence?

Petra Brhlikova, Allyson M. Pollock, Rachel Manners

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives To re-assess the quality of the epidemiological studies used to estimate the global burden of depression 2000, as published in the GBDep study.

Design Primary and secondary data sources used in the global burden of depression estimate were identified and assigned to country of origin. Each source was assessed with respect to completeness and representativeness for national/regional estimates and against the inclusion criteria used by the scientific team estimating GBDep.

Setting Not applicable.

Participants Not applicable.

Main outcome measures Not applicable.

Results First, National estimates: The 28 scientific sources cited in the GBDep study related to 40 of the 191 WHO member countries. The EURO region had studies relating to 15 of 52 countries whereas AFRO region had studies for only three of 46 countries. Only six of the 40 countries had data drawn from a nationally representative population: the three AFRO country studies were based on a single village or town and, likewise, SEARO region had no nationally representative data; second, GBDep criteria: GBDep inclusion criteria required study sample size of more than 1000 people; 19 (45%) of the 42 studies did not meet this criterion. Sixteen (44%) of 36 studies did not meet the requirement that studies show a clear sample frame and method. GBD estimates rely on estimates of incidence; only two of the 42 country studies provided incidence data (Canada and Norway), the remaining 34 studies were prevalence studies. Duration of depression is based on three studies conducted in the USA and Holland.

Conclusions Most studies exhibit significant shortcomings and limitations with respect to study design and analysis and compliance with GBDep inclusion criteria. Poor quality data limit the interpretation and validity of global burden of depression estimates. The uncritical application of these estimates to international healthcare policy-making could divert scarce resources from other public healthcare priorities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-34
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the Royal Society of Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011

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