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Depression and Decision-making Capacity for Treatment and Research: A Systematic Review

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Thomas Hindmarch, Matthew Hotopf, Gareth Owen

Original languageEnglish
Article number54
Pages (from-to)N/A
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Medical Ethics
Issue number1
PublishedDec 2013

King's Authors


Psychiatric disorders can pose problems in the assessment of decision-making capacity (DMC). This is so particularly where psychopathology is seen as the extreme end of a dimension that includes normality. Depression is an example of such a psychiatric disorder. Four abilities (understanding, appreciating, reasoning and ability to express a choice) are commonly assessed when determining DMC in psychiatry and uncertainty exists about the extent to which depression impacts capacity to make treatment or research participation decisions.

A systematic review of the medical ethical and empirical literature concerning depression and DMC was conducted. Medline, EMBASE and PsycInfo databases were searched for studies of depression and consent and DMC. Empirical studies and papers containing ethical analysis were extracted and analysed.

17 publications were identified. The clinical ethics studies highlighted appreciation of
information as the ability that can be impaired in depression, indicating that emotional factors can impact on DMC. The empirical studies reporting decision-making ability scores also highlighted impairment of appreciation but without evidence of strong impact. Measurement problems, however, looked likely. The frequency of clinical judgements of lack of DMC in people with depression varied greatly according to acuity of illness and whether judgements are structured or unstructured.

Depression can impair DMC especially if severe. Most evidence indicates appreciation as the ability primarily impaired by depressive illness. Understanding and measuring the appreciation ability in depression remains a problem in need of further research.

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