Original Research

A systematic review of online depression screening tools for use in the South African context

Tasneem Hassem, Sumaya Laher
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 25 | a1373 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v25i0.1373 | © 2019 Tasneem Hassem | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 04 January 2019 | Published: 12 November 2019

About the author(s)

Tasneem Hassem, Department of Psychology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Sumaya Laher, Department of Psychology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


Background: According to the World Health Organization, the alarming increase in rates of depression globally has become a serious concern. In 2010, the prevalence rate of depression in South Africa was 4.6%. Given the context of South Africa where the majority of the population have limited access to healthcare facilities and 59.3% of the population have access to the Internet, an online depression screening tool would have much to offer.

Objective: To determine whether online depression screening tools would be suitable for use in South Africa.

Methods: This study presents a systematic review of online depression screening tools to determine whether one would be suitable for use in South Africa. Articles were accessed from seven electronic databases from 1970 to 2018. All articles included in the review were critically appraised.

Results: A total of 17 articles met the inclusion criteria. From the results, there was only one screening tool available on an open access platform for use by the general population. The most common depression online screening tools were the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II), the Center for Epidemiology Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). It was also evident that there were negligible differences in the psychometric properties of online versus paper versions of the online screening tools. Furthermore, there were very few studies that considered the African or South African population and no online screening tools for major depressive disorder (MDD) developed in these contexts.

Conclusion: There appears to be a need for a depression screening tool to be adapted for online usage in South Africa. It is recommended that the online screening tool should be adapted from the three commonly used online depression screening tools: PHQ-9, CES-D and BDI-II.


BDI-II; CES-D; depression; major depressive disorder; PHQ-9; screening tool


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