Psychological Medicine

The validity of two versions of the GHQ in the WHO study of mental illness in general health care

a1 Institute of Psychiatry, London; and the Division of Mental Health of the World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland


Background. In recent years the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) has been extensively used as a short screening instrument, producing results that are comparable to longer versions of the GHQ.

Methods. The validity of the GHQ-12 was compared with the GHQ-28 in a World Health Organization study of psychological disorders in general health care. Results are presented for 5438 patients interviewed in 15 centres using the primary care version of the Composite International Diagnostic Instrument, or CIDI-PC.

Results. Results were uniformly good, with the average area under the ROC curve 88, range from 83 to 95. Minor variations in the criteria used for defining a case made little difference to the validity of the GHQ, and complex scoring methods offered no advantages over simpler ones. The GHQ was translated into 10 other languages for the purposes of this study, and validity coefficients were almost as high as in the original language. There was no tendency for the GHQ to work less efficiently in developing countries. Finally gender, age and educational level are shown to have no significant effect on the validity of the GHQ.

Conclusions. If investigators wish to use a screening instrument as a case detector, the shorter GHQ is remarkably robust and works as well as the longer instrument. The latter should only be preferred if there is an interest in the scaled scores provided in addition to the total score.

Address for correspondence: Professor Sir David Goldberg, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF.