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Published studies of prevalence of depression in old age in Taiwan have yielded equivocal results.To study the prevalence of depressive disorders among community-dwelling elderly; further, to assess socio-demographic correlates and life events in relation to depression.A randomised sample of 1500 subjects aged 65 and over was selected from three communities. Research psychiatrists conducted all assessments using the Geriatric Mental State Schedule. The diagnosis of depression was made with the GMS-AGECAT (Automated Geriatric Examination for Computerised Assisted Taxonomy); data on life events were collected with the Taiwanese version of the Life Events and Difficulties Schedule.One-month prevalence of psychiatric disorders was 37.7%, with 15.3% depressive neurosis and 5.9% major depression. A high risk of depressive disorders was found among widows with a low educational level living in the urban community, and among those with physical illnesses.Contrary to most previous reports, we found that the prevalence of depressive disorders among the elderly in the community in Taiwan is high and comparable to rates reported in some studies of UK samples.The National Health Research Institute of Taiwan funded this project.