Original Research

Evaluating the efficacy of an online depression screening tool in South Africa: A pilot study

Tasneem Hassem
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 28 | a1687 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v28i0.1687 | © 2022 Tasneem Hassem | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 January 2021 | Published: 28 February 2022

About the author(s)

Tasneem Hassem, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Human and Community Development, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


Background: A global increase of 16% in depression rates from 1990 to 2019 highlights the alarming situation in relation to increase in depression. Research has indicated that this rate is likely to increase as a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In South Africa, the depression life-time prevalence rate is 9.47%. However, the lack of access to mental healthcare services leads to people not receiving much needed information and care. The growing accessibility to the Internet for South Africans offers a solution for the screening and access to self-help information for depression. The Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CESD)-R was adapted for online usage and a website, mddsa.co.za, was piloted in this regard.

Aim: This study reports on the efficacy of the online adapted CESD-R for use in South Africa by reporting on the reliability and criterion validity as well as the user friendliness of the website and the appropriateness of the instant feedback provided.

Setting: The study was conducted in South Africa during COVID lockdown level 1 and 2.

Methods: This study followed a quantitative, cross-sectional research design. A convenience sample of 21 individuals, above the age of 18, with a depression diagnosis and 86 individuals with no mental health diagnosis participated in the study. Participants accessed the screening instrument online at the website.

Results: Internal consistency reliability coefficients exceeded 0.80. T-test and sensitivity and specificity results attested to the accuracy of the tool. All items contributed well to the instrument, including the items that were culturally specific to South Africa. Feedback from participants indicated that the tool was easily comprehensible, the website was user friendly and the instant feedback provided was appropriate.

Conclusion: The online adapted CESD-R evidenced excellent reliability and criterion validity and was able to accurately screen for depression amongst South Africans. The website and the tool have the potential to be utilised to increase access to a screening instrument for individuals who display symptoms of depression and to enhance the opportunity for individuals to practise self-help.


criterion validity; depression; online screening; reliability; sensitivity; specificity


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Crossref Citations

1. Evaluating the Efficacy of Ethical Guidelines for Online Screening of Mental Health in South Africa
Tasneem Hassem, Sumaya Laher
Frontiers in Psychology  vol: 13  year: 2022  
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.875911