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Validation of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) emotional subscale in assessing depression and anxiety across development

Armitage, Jessica May ORCID:, Tseliou, Foteini, Riglin, Lucy, Dennison, Charlotte ORCID:, Eyre, Olga, Bevan-Jones, Rhys ORCID:, Rice, Frances ORCID:, Thapar, Ajay K. ORCID:, Thapar, Anita ORCID: and Collishaw, Stephan ORCID: 2023. Validation of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) emotional subscale in assessing depression and anxiety across development. PLoS ONE 18 (7) , e0288882. 10.1371/journal.pone.0288882

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Emotional disorders are common in childhood, and their prevalence sharply increases during adolescence. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is widely used for screening emotional and behavioural difficulties in children and young people, but little is known about the accuracy of the emotional subscale (SDQ-E) in detecting emotional disorders, and whether this changes over development. Such knowledge is important in determining whether symptom changes across age are due to developmental or measurement differences. This study assessed the validity of the SDQ-E and two individual items (low mood and general worry) in differentiating between cases and non-cases of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and other anxiety disorders across ages 7, 10, 13, 15, and 25 years in a UK population cohort. Analyses showed moderate accuracy of the subscale in discriminating cases of MDD (AUC = 0.67–0.85), and high accuracy for discriminating cases of GAD (AUC = 0.80–0.93) and any anxiety disorder (AUC = 0.74–0.83) compared to non-cases. The SDQ-E performed well across ages and sex, and generally performed better than the two individual items. Together our findings validate the SDQ-E as a screen for emotional disorders during childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, and as a tool for longitudinal research on depression and anxiety disorders.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Medicine
Additional Information: License information from Publisher: LICENSE 1: URL:
Publisher: Public Library of Science
ISSN: 1932-6203
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 20 July 2023
Date of Acceptance: 5 July 2023
Last Modified: 17 Jan 2024 02:22

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