Clinical Depression Test and Diagnosis

Updated October 7, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Everyone has bad days or has the blues at times. Some attest that their periods of melancholy help them appreciate the finer moments of life. Oftentimes, life is a balance of the highs and the lows and finding meaning and resilience through them both.

When Depression Controls Your Life, It's Time To Get Help

It can be understandable, then, that you or family or friends might perceive symptoms of depression as something to be tolerated, as a simple part of life. Some people fear receiving an actual diagnosis and would rather try to address the symptoms themselves. Perhaps feelings of depression are seen as a "challenge" that we all must personally overcome from time to time in our lives. Sometimes, however, these lows aren’t so simple.

Most everyone does feel sad at times. It’s a very natural feeling — a completely typical, appropriate response to challenges or upsetting things life. But if these feelings are lasting or become overwhelming, they can begin to interfere with your mental and physical health and the potential to live a full, productive life. The hopeful news is that compassionate help and effective treatments are available. Just the act of reaching out to another person for support can help to ease your pain, suffering, and distress, and it can help you feel more empowered and capable. It can be a positive first step on the path to healing.

What Is A Depression Test?

A depression test may ask questions about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors over the past two weeks. It is important to keep in mind that even if you take a depression test online or on your own, if you diagnose yourself with depression, that does not represent a formal medical diagnosis. So please reach out for help from a licensed primary healthcare provider or mental health care professional so that you can get the professional help you deserve, if that is a path that you think would benefit you. Often, depression screening is covered by health insurance plans, so you may not have to go out of pocket to pay for one. 

An example of a depression screening is the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) from Pfizer. The PHQ-9 measures depression based on how a person describes the frequency with which they’ve been bothered by a series of problems in the last two weeks, from “not at all” to “several days” to “more than half the days” to “nearly every day.” A sample of the PHQ-9 is quoted below:

Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems?

  1. Little interest or pleasure in doing things
  2. Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless
  3. Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
  4. Feeling tired or having little energy
  5. Poor appetite or overeating
  6. Feeling bad about yourself—or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down
  7. Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television
  8. Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed? Or the opposite—being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual
  9. Thoughts that you would be better off dead or of hurting yourself in some way

If the individual has experienced one or more of the concerns above over the last two weeks, they are asked how difficult those problems have made it for them to do their work, take care of things at home, or get along with other people.

Please reach out for help immediately if you have thoughts of harming yourself. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free, confidential support, as well as prevention and crisis resources. It can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

The Crisis Text Line can connect anyone in crisis with a crisis counselor; text “HELLO” to 741741 anytime.

If you’ve been bothered by feelings, thoughts, or behaviors from the depression test above or if you are wondering if you might be depressed, please reach out for help. Support is available and there are very effective options for working to overcome depression. Know that you are not alone. Help is available.

Many people experience depression. In fact, studies have shown that about half of the U.S. population may experience an episode of depression in their lifetime. Depression is one of the most common mental health concerns in the United States. Research shows that in 2020, 8.4% of adults in the U.S. experienced a major depressive episode, equivalent to 21 million people.

Diagnosing Depression

There is not one definitive test used to diagnose depression, but multiple tools and tests that can be utilized by psychology professionals and other mental health providers to identify symptoms. If you’re looking up questions about whether you have depression, you might be at the point that reaching out for help may be the best way to get your questions answered and to find ways to heal. A primary healthcare provider or a licensed mental health professional can help you, as both are typically licensed to administer depression tests.

When you meet with a healthcare provider about depression, they’ll work with you to try to determine your diagnosis and the individualized treatment that will be right for you.

Diagnostic Tools

When you see a healthcare provider, they may do the following:

  1. Talk to you about depression and your symptoms. Topics may include:
  • Your mood most of the time
  • Lack of enjoyment or interest in things that were once pleasurable
  • Change in weight or appetite
  • Sleep patterns, such as insomnia (lack of sleep) or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or feelings of fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt
  • Problems with concentration or decision-making
  • Feeling irritable
  • Use or misuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Chronic or significant stressors
  • Challenges with functioning at home or work and in relationships
  • Thoughts of self-harm

The healthcare provider might use a diagnostic test that addresses these symptoms or others. The National Institute of Mental Health explains that for depression to be diagnosed, symptoms are usually present most of the day for most of the days in a two week period.

  1. Evaluate physical signs and symptoms of depression. Physical signsmay include:
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches or digestion issues
  • Constant tiredness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Slow physical movement
  • Limb pain, joint pain, or back pain
  1. Ask you about your health history, including:
  • Your physical and mental health history
  • Your family history, including information about relatives who may have lived with or are currently experiencing mental health disorders
  1. Recommend lab tests to evaluate possible physical contributors to depression. Examples of contributors can include:
  • Viruses
  • Illnesses
  • Medications
  • Hormonal deficiencies or imbalances
  • Vitamin deficiencies

5. Consider your risk factors for depression. Depression can affect anyone, but there are some common risk factors:

  • Biochemistry: Certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to depression.
  • Personality: People who have certain personality traits (such as a pessimistic outlook, negative self-esteem, or who feel overwhelmed with stress) may be more prone to depression.
  • Genetics: Depression can run in families.
  • Environment: Exposure to neglect, abuse, loss, violence, poverty, or other challenging conditions may contribute to depression.

If you or a loved one is experiencing or has experienced abuse or domestic violence, please seek help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is free and confidential and offers support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also text “START” to 88788 or use the live chat option on the website at TheHotline.org.

Next Steps: A Treatment Plan For Depression

If your healthcare provider diagnoses you with depression, they will work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan. A treatment plan may include medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or, in many cases, a combination. Self-care is also usually part of a treatment plan.

Common treatment plans include:

  1. Medication
  • There are many effective medications available for treating depression.
  • Your doctor can work with you to find a medication that is a good fit for managing your individual symptoms.
  • Some medications can take a few weeks or more to fully work. Your doctor can offer guidance about what to expect.
  • You should not stop taking the medication without consulting with your doctor first.
  • Sometimes your doctor may change medications to help find one that will be best for you. Other times adding a second medication might be helpful.
  • Your doctor can help you understand possible side effects of medication.
    • If you are taking medicine, please reach out to your prescribing physician if you have any questions or concerns. They are there to help you find effective treatments.
  1. Therapy
    • Therapy, also called psychotherapy or talk therapy, can be an important part of an effective treatment plan for depression.
    • In therapy, you can work with a psychology professional or another mental health professional to learn new ways of thinking and behaving and to change habits that may contribute to depression.
    • You may identify life events (past and present) that may be contributing to depression and find healthy ways to change them or to accept them and move forward.
    • You may work on changing behaviors that can contribute to depression.
    • You might work on goal-setting and realistic, healthy ways to meet your goals.
    • You might focus on developing healthy coping skills to manage symptoms and problems and to help prevent and manage depression in the present and future.
    • Essentially, you can learn ways to have healthier, more positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  2. Self-Care

While depression can make it hard to take steps that can help you feel better, taking care of yourself can truly help. Self-care strategies may include:

  • Staying connected with people who make you feel good. Depression can sometimes make you feel like withdrawing and can feel isolating. But staying connected with others — particularly those who make you feel safe and care for — can offer you a sense of support. You might also find meaningful connections by volunteering, caring for a pet, or joining a support group.
  • Doing things that make you feel good. Depression can zap you of your energy, but trying to do things that you find enlivening or relaxing can help. While it may take some motivation to get going, once you do, you may gradually recognize how being active or being out in the world can feel good and help you work through depression.
  • Taking care of your physical needs to support your body and mind. Regular, healthy sleep patterns can help you feel better. Eating a nutritious diet can also help with the management of depression, as can exercise and even simply stepping outdoors.

Most importantly, keep in mind that taking care of yourself and following your treatment plan can help you on your path to healing.

When Depression Controls Your Life, It's Time To Get Help

Treatment Can Help

Treating depression may not be a quick fix for anyone, but it can lead to the effective management of the symptoms of this mental illness. With the help of a psychology professional or another mental health provider, you can find ways to control or lessen the severity of your depression symptoms, get to the root of the issue, and improve your emotional well-being. It is possible to ease your symptoms and manage them.

If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, feel that you’re being bothered by symptoms of depression, or are living with other mental health-related concerns, you can begin your therapy journey today. At BetterHelp, you can match with a therapist online, and if at any point you do not feel they are a good fit, you can request to switch to another therapist! You can either be matched again or choose your own. All of the therapists, psychologists, and counselors on the BetterHelp platform are experienced, licensed mental health professionals with a variety of specialties. On BetterHelp, you’ll be able to talk to your therapist using a communication method that works for you. You can speak over the phone, via video chat, or online messaging. You can receive compassionate, professional help from exactly where you are, so long as you have a reliable internet . Treatment can help you manage depression, regain hope, feel more like yourself again, and live a positive life.

Hear from some of BetterHelp’s users who have benefited from our counselors in treating their depression:

“I worked with Sarah for some months last year, while struggling a lot with depression, relationship issues and my self esteem. It was a really difficult time in my life, but I must say that Sarah really helped me a lot. From before I had some bad experiences with therapists, feeling that they didn’t really see me and understand what I needed help with, but with Sarah it was soooo different! From the very first session I felt like she got me, knew what I needed and that she managed to see the connection between my issues and my background. Working with her truly helped me a lot with moving out of my depression, battling the issues in my relationships and maybe most importantly, getting my self esteem back and truly loving myself. I’d absolutely recommend Sarah, and I’d most definitely trust her again if life gives me lemons again!”

“I have had chronic mild depression my whole 50 year life. Been to therapy, once long term, several other attempts where I did not connect, including a couple on BetterHelp, but made minimal progress. Laura is the first person who I felt has been able to zero in on the root problem and offer a path to recovery, and for the first time I am cautiously optimistic that with her help she can prod me and work with me to finally achieve happiness”

Questions You Might Have:

Is there an actual test for depression?

There are many different tests that psychology professionals and other mental health professionals use to measure depression symptoms. One of the most popular tests for depression is the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) from Pfizer. The PHQ-9 measures depression based on how a person describes the frequency with which they’ve been bothered by a series of problems in the last two weeks, from “not at all” to “several days” to “more than half the days” to “nearly every day.” A sample of what the PHQ-9 looks like is quoted below:

Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems?

  1. Little interest or pleasure in doing things

Not at all            Several days     More than half the days     Nearly every day

  1. Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless

Not at all            Several days     More than half the days     Nearly every day

  1. Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much

Not at all            Several days     More than half the days     Nearly every day

  1. Feeling tired or having little energy

Not at all            Several days     More than half the days     Nearly every day

  1. Poor appetite or overeating

Not at all            Several days     More than half the days     Nearly every day

  1. Feeling bad about yourself — or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down

Not at all            Several days     More than half the days     Nearly every day

  1. Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television

Not at all            Several days     More than half the days     Nearly every day

  1. Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed? Or the opposite — being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual

Not at all            Several days     More than half the days     Nearly every day

  1. Thoughts that you would be better off dead or of hurting yourself in some way

Not at all            Several days     More than half the days     Nearly every day

If the individual has experienced one or more of the concerns above over the last two weeks, they are asked how difficult those problems have made it for them to do their work, take care of things at home, or get along with other people.

You Don’t Have To Face Depression Alone. Our Experienced Counselors Can Help.

Get Help & Support With Depression Today
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