Background Depression is an important public health problem and is closely associated with suicidal behavior in the population. Although the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) is widely used for assessment of depression, the psychometric characteristics of this scale have not been explored in studies of suicide attempters and local residents in rural areas. Methods In this study, reliability and validity of CES-D were assessed in 409 suicide attempters and 409 comparison residents from rural China and through internal consistency analysis and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). Results Cronbach’s alpha values of the CES-D were 0.940 and 0.895 in, respectively, suicide attempters and comparison residents. CES-D scores were significantly correlated with the scores of Trait Anxiety Inventory (TAI) and Beck Hopelessness Scale (BHS) in both the suicide attempters and the comparison residents. Confirmatory factor analyses indicated that 3-factor structure (positive affect, interpersonal problems, depressive mood and somatic symptoms combined) with 14 items (excluding items 9, 10, 13, 15, 17, and 19) had the best fit in these two populations. Conclusions The CES-D scale has satisfactory reliability and validity when used for assessing depression in suicide attempters and comparison residents in rural China.
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