Screening male prisoners for depression and anxiety with the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 at NHS Healthcheck: patterns of symptoms and caseness threshold
journal contributionposted on 13.10.2021, 08:33 by Elizabeth Butcher, Christopher Packham, Marie Williams, Joanne Miksza, Adarsh Kaul, Kamlesh Khunti, Richard Morriss
Screening for depression and anxiety disorders has been proposed in prison populations but little is known about caseness thresholds on commonly used self-report measures in relation to core symptoms, risk factors and symptom patterns.
A cross-sectional prevalence survey measured depression and anxiety caseness (threshold scores > 10 and > 15 on PHQ-9 and GAD-7 and diagnostic algorithm on PHQ-9) in 1205 male prisoners aged 35–74 years eligible for an NHS Healthcheck from six English prisons. Caseness scores were compared with the presence or absence of daily core symptoms of depression and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), demographic, prison and cardiovascular risk factors. Cluster analysis was applied to PHQ-9 and GAD-7 items in prisoners scoring > 10 on PHQ-9.
453(37.6%) and 249(20.7%) prisoners scored > 10 and > 15 respectively on PHQ-9; 216 (17.9%) had a depressive episode on the PHQ-9 algorithm; 378(31.4%) and 217(18.0%) scored > 10 and > 15 on GAD-7 respectively. Daily core items for depression were scored in 232(56.2%) and 139(74.3%) prisoners reaching > 10 and > 15 respectively on PHQ-9; daily core anxiety items in 282(74.9%) and 179(96.3%) reaching > 10 and > 15 on GAD-7. Young age, prison and previous high alcohol intake were associated with > 15 on the PHQ-9. Cluster analysis showed a cluster with core symptoms of depression, slowness, restlessness, suicidality, poor concentration, irritability or fear. Altered appetite, poor sleep, lack of energy, guilt or worthlessness belonged to other clusters and may not be indicative of depression.
In male prisoners > 35 years, a score of > 10 on the PHQ-9 over diagnoses depressive episodes but a score of > 10 on the GAD-7 may detect cases of GAD more efficiently. Further research utilising standardised psychiatric interviews is required to determine whether the diagnostic algorithm, a higher cut-off on the PHQ-9 or the profile of symptoms on the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 used singly or in combination may be used to screen depressive episodes efficiently in prisoners.