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This study aimed to investigate the recognition rate of psychological distress in general hospitals in China and to examine the main associated factors.Using a cross-sectional study design, the questionnaires were administered to a total of 1329 inpatients from a tertiary hospital. The Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item scale (GAD-7), the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-15) and the Whiteley-7 (WI-7) were used to assess patients’ mental health status. Two subjective questions were used to identify the awareness of psychological distress in patients and doctors.The frequency of psychological distress measured by the questionnaires was high in our sample (53.4%). However, the recognition rates of both patients (34.9%) and by doctors (39.1%) was low. The concordance rate between patients and doctors of whether the patient had psychological distress or not was extremely poor (Kappa = 0.089, P = .001). Factors associated with the poor concordance rate included patients’ annual household income and clinically significant self-reported symptoms of anxiety and hypochondriasis.The recognition rate of psychological distress was underestimated and this may be related to a lack of awareness of mental disturbances and patients’ low annual household income.