Clinical Depression Test And Diagnosis

Updated March 10, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Most everyone experiences sadness at times, it is a very natural feeling and can be an appropriate response to challenges or upsetting things in life. But depression is something more. If feelings of sadness, low mood, and lack of interest in activities are lasting or overwhelming, they can begin to seriously interfere with your life. It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether what one is experiencing is sadness, or whether it is part of a more serious mental health condition, such as depression. Here, we’ll explore an example of a depression questionnaire, what might be involved in a depression diagnosis, and options for treatment. 

You Don’t Have To Face Depression Alone

What Is A Depression Test?

A depression test may ask questions about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors over the past two weeks to screen for depressive symptoms. It is important to keep in mind that if you take a depression test online or on your own, that does not represent a formal medical diagnosis. Please reach out for help from your primary care provider or a mental health care professional so that you can get the professional help you deserve. 

An example of a depression screening is the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), which was developed by Drs. Robert L. Spitzer, Janet B.W. Williams, Kurt Kroenke and colleagues. The PHQ-9 assesses depression symptoms 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.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.

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 treating depression. Know that you are not alone. Many people experience depression: 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

When diagnosing depression, there are multiple tools and tests that can be utilized by healthcare 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 move forward. 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.

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 signs may 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

  1. 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 offers support 24 hours a day, seven 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

Next Steps: Treatment Options For Depression

If your healthcare provider diagnoses you with depression, they can work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan. A treatment plan may include medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or, in many cases, a combination of the two. Self-care is also often part of a treatment plan. We’ll dive into these three common treatment options below:

  1. Medication

There are many 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 and can offer guidance about what to expect. Your doctor can also help you understand possible side effects of medication. If you are taking medication, please reach out to your prescribing physician if you have any questions or concerns. They can 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 trained 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.

  1. 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 cared 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 enjoyable 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.

You Don’t Have To Face Depression Alone

How Online Therapy Can Help

With the help of a mental health professional, 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. If you are interested in seeking help but the thought of commuting to an in-person appointment feels exhausting—which is understandable if you have depression—online therapy may feel a little more manageable. With online therapy, you can match with a therapist online and then speak with your therapist virtually from wherever is most comfortable for you, so long as you have a reliable internet connection. 

Plus, research has found that online therapy can be an effective option for treating depression. For instance, one such study concluded that “an internet-based intervention for depression is equally beneficial to regular face-to-face therapy.” 

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”


If you believe that you are experiencing depression, reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional for support. While learning more about depression and some common assessments for evaluating depression can be useful, it is important to seek professional help if you have questions about depression or need support. For further support with depression, you can also connect with a licensed therapist online. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is there an actual test for depression?

There are many different tests that health professionals can use to measure depression symptoms. One of the most popular tests for depression is the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9). 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.” If the individual has experienced one or more of the concerns listed 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.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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