One in Three Hospitalized Patients Show Symptoms of Depression

By Paul Gaita 06/07/17

According to a new study, patients with symptoms of depression endure longer stays and recovery time.

patient lying in hospital bed

Approximately 33% of hospitalized patients experience symptoms of depression during their stay, which may have a negative impact on their recovery.

Those are the findings of a new study conducted by, among others, researchers from the Departments of Psychiatry and Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine. The study underscored the importance of screening patients newly admitted to a hospital for depression as well as for physical issues in order to reduce hospital stays and chances of readmissions.

To conduct their study, the researchers analyzed peer-reviewed articles written between 1990 and 2016 that tested depression screening tools for inpatients, or those that examined the link between depression detected during hospitalization and clinical outcomes.

The articles showed that in both of these scenarios, symptoms of depression were identified in a range of 5% to 60% of patients, with a median of 33%. Symptoms included feelings of sadness or hopelessness, expressing little interest or pleasure in doing things, and experiencing changes in appetite and sleep patterns. 

If not identified through screening, the study noted that symptoms of depression have a long-ranging impact upon the patient's treatment and recovery. Depressed patients are less likely to take their medications or keep up with follow-up appointments as outpatients. As a result, recovery times for the condition that required hospitalization might take longer, while chances of readmission and longer hospital stays are also increased.

The study noted that screening tools used by several individual hospitals showed exceptionally high rates of sensitivity and specificity in regard to diagnosing symptoms of depression. At Cedars-Sinai, adult patients are screened for depression within 24 hours of admission.

The initial screenings comprise of two questions on mood and interest in pleasurable activities; if depressive symptoms are indicated during this phase, nurses then apply a more detailed questionnaire that addresses the patient's energy, level of concentration, appetite and other factors. Those that screen positive then receive interventions from admitting physicians, social workers and psychiatrists.

The study's findings prompted the authors to advocate for such screenings as a regular part of the intake process. "We know that depression is a serious factor in any patient's recovery," said lead author Dr. Waguih William IsHak. "Adding a screening for depression seizes a golden opportunity to initiate and maintain treatment. These findings show that hospitals might experience improved outcomes by initiating a depression screening program."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.