How to Assess Your Mood When You’re Feeling Depressed

By Sarah Fader |Updated April 4, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Richard Jackson, LICSW

Feeling depressed is never pleasant, but sometimes what may seem like a small bump in the road can actually turn into a serious mental illness. Depression that holds on for weeks and affects the way you work and interact with others needs to be treated to become happier, increase mental and behavioral health to succeed at work and in relationships.

A Healthline infographic on depression statistics tells the story of depression in America and around the world in facts and figures. As you read it, notice how many other people - many of them like you or in your situation - are living with depression.

Clinical depression is common on a global level with millions experiencing depression around the world. The incidence of depression is perhaps less concerning than widespread failure to receive treatment. Untreated, depression can lead to suicide. Depression can cause difficulties at work or even job loss. In fact, major depression is the number one cause of disability for people in the United States between the ages of 18-44. Mental illness that is not properly managed can destroy relationships and social functioning.

Everyone experiences feelings of sadness from time to time. The problem for many people is that it can be hard to recognize the difference between a few bad days feeling sad and a lasting depression before it has gone on for a long time. Depression screenings can help you determine if you need to take a wait-and-see approach or go ahead and seek behavioral health treatment.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7. For more mental health information regarding suicide prevention, visit the American Physiatric Association’s website.

What Causes Depression?

Like other types of mental illness, there is no one singular cause of depression. Risk factors that increase an individual’s risk of developing depression include brain chemistry, family history of mental illness, past trauma/abuse and the presence of another behavioral health condition (such as eating disorders, substance abuse problems, etc).

The US Department of Health & Human Services discusses the connection between mental illness and substance use disorders. They state that 1 in 4 adults with serious mental illness also have a substance abuse problem. Substance abuse and mental health often co-occur as an individual uses drugs or alcohol to cope with overwhelming symptoms of mental illness. The US Department of Health & Human Services recommends that an individual facing both substance abuse and mental illness find behavioral health treatment to address both conditions. Evidence based dual diagnosis treatment includes rehabilitation, psychotherapy, medication and support groups.

The Mental Health Resource Center in Florida offers behavioral healthcare and treatment services for individuals living with mental illness. Call the Mental Health Resource Center at 904-695-9145 to learn more about their various inpatient and outpatient treatment services.

Depression in 2020

A national survey revealed that many Americans are facing increased depression and anxiety, or exacerbation of existing mental health conditions, as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. Worsening symptoms or onset of mental illness may be attributed to increased isolation as a result of social distancing, anxiety around catching the virus or spreading it to family members, or money worries during this time.

The national survey, taken by 2000 adults between 18-24 reported significantly increased thoughts of self harm compared to pre-pandemic times. It showed symptoms of moderate depression and increased sleep disruption to the challenges of coping with COVID. Results of the survey conveying worsening behavioral health have remained fairly consistent throughout the course of the pandemic.

Another national survey assessed the impact of COVID on parents and children’s mental and physical health. 27% of parents stated that their mental health had worsened since the start of the pandemic, and 14% of their children’s behavioral health was affected. The national study attributed decreased mental health to many factors such as loss of child care or money worries. For more information about coping with COVID, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) provides an online Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator that provides information about treatment facilities in the US.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7. For more mental health information regarding suicide prevention, visit the American Physiatric Association’s website.

The Value of Depression screenings

Feeling symptoms associated with depression might just be a passing emotion. If it is more than that, you need to know as early as possible to prevent falling into a deeper depressed mood. You can get a very quick assessment of your mood by taking one of the many tests available. These simple tests have several benefits.

  • Acknowledge the problem. Filling out a depression questionnaire is one way to begin acknowledging that you might have a mental health problem and is the first step towards problem solving.
  • Gaining self-awareness. As you take the test, you may recognize ways your mood is affecting you that you never noticed before.
  • Prompt you to consider getting professional help. Without a screening test, you might never consider the possibility that you need help from a behavioral health specialist. However, most of the tests encourage you to seek help if your score falls within a certain range.
  • Self-tests are for screening and not for diagnosis. While self-tests can be very helpful, you should not use them to diagnose your own depression. If they return a result that you are experiencing depression, don't take matters into your own hands but instead, ask a behavioral health specialist for a full evaluation.
  • Test results can be useful at your clinical depression evaluation. If you do take a test and follow its recommendation to talk to a mental health provider, you can bring the results of the test to your appointment or refer to them in the assessment interview. A behavioral health specialist can provide a starting point for discussing further mental health information.

Types of Tests

Several different tests have been developed over the years to assess feelings of depression. They fall into several categories. Choose the one that seems most advantageous to you.

  • Tests administered by a professional. If you don't trust screening tests or if you have taken one and have gotten results that indicated a need to seek help, the first step for the behavioral health specialist will be to evaluate you. They often do this by administering more advanced tests that need to be graded by someone who is trained in administering the test. These tests are usually given in an interview format.
  • Online depression test. The internet is so much a part of life in the 21st century that it's natural when individuals want to use it for important tasks such as these. An online test is the fastest, easiest way to get a sense of how you are coping and functioning in the world. They are not a substitute for professional help, but they can be an appropriate first step. All you need to do is go to the test, read the questions and click on your chosen answers, and click on a button to receive your score.
  • Pen-and-papertests. Tests you take by hand with a pencil and paper are typically similar or identical to online depression tests. They ask the same sorts of questions, give the same types of options for answers, and are scored in the same way. Some people prefer this type of test if they feel rushed online and want to take their time as they consider the questions. Others, especially older adults, may feel more comfortable with the test if they don't have to go online to do it. If you or someone you know wants to take a pen-and-paper test, you can get it from a mental health clinic or download and print it from an online source.

Self-Assessment screenings

Depression takes many forms, and so do depression screening quizzes. Different tests are available for people of different ages and stages of life, as well as tests for any adult to use for depression. These are some of the most notable tests available today.

  • PHQ-9: The Patient Health Questionnaire 9-question test has proven reliable in determining the presence and severity of depression. This test is short but very effective. Many professionals give it to patients to fill out immediately before their appointment. You can also take the PHQ-9 screening for yourself.
  • Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale: This test is a short 30-question test that rates depressive elements in your feelings, somatic (body) symptoms, and other psychological symptoms. You can take this test in a few short minutes online or with a pen and paper. If your score is 20-44, your mood is within the normal range. However, if your results reveal a score 45 or higher, you probably have some degree of depression. A score of 70 or above indicates you are probably severely depressed and need to seek further evaluation immediately.
  • Major Depression Inventory (MDI): The World Health Organization devised this mood questionnaire to give individuals a way of assessing their depressed mood and sharing it with a mental health provider. The MDI is available online. This test, unlike most other self-report depression inventories, can be used by a professional in diagnosing clinical depression.
  • Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Test: If you have recently given birth and are feeling depressed, you might be suffering from postnatal depression. This is a serious condition that could affect your life and the lives of your baby and family members are at risk. If you are unsure how serious your depressed feelings are, you can take the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Test online.
  • Geriatric Depression Scale: This test is designed for older adults whose symptoms may present differently than those of younger adults. This test includes 30 items that you can respond to in order to get a quick picture of your mood. It is most often used for self-reporting in hospitals, but it can also be used for older adults who are not hospitalized and may be healthy in most ways.

Types of Questions

The questions on self-assessment tests for depression are usually easy to answer for most people. They cover three main aspects of depression.

  • Emotional Symptoms. Test questions ask how you feel emotionally at certain times and in certain situations including feeling sad, guilty or hopeless.
  • Somatic Symptoms. Somatic symptoms are the body's way of showing a depressed mood. They can include irregularities in eating, sleeping and even pain, as well as weight changes and fatigue.
  • Other Psychological Symptoms. Some psychological symptoms that might be explored on a depression test are speed of thinking and speaking, thoughts of harming yourself and levels of concentration and problem solving.
  • Tests Administered by Professionals: A self-assessment test may lead you to seek help from a behavioral health specialist. If so, they may take you through another, more comprehensive and precisely-scored test. These tests are usually done interview-style and are used as a part of making a formal diagnosis.
  • Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAMD): The HAMD is usually given as a pen-and-paper test or in an interview at the start of a counseling appointment. The test has 21 questions and takes about 15-20 minutes to complete. The test should only be administered by a mental health professional. Through research, the HAMD has been identified as a reliable test for depression.
  • Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS): This test is available to view online, but it is designed to be given by a qualified counselor, therapist or doctor. The test asks all three types of questions listed above, and the person giving the test rates each item as to the degree of severity. Researchers rated the MADRAS as more reliable than the HAMD.

If You Are Depressed, You Are Not Alone

Before you take a depression test, it's important to know that you aren't alone. In addition to the millions of people who have clinical depression, there are even more who just have a brief period of feeling blue. You might not know until a mental health problem has become severe if you don't take action now. That's why tests that screen for depression were invented.

Instead of feeling guilty because you aren't behaving the way you would like, congratulate yourself on your foresight in taking a depression test and considering what mental health help can mean for you and your family members. Depression isn't a sign of weakness. It's a bona fide mental illness that can be treated and overcome.

The Mental Health Resource Center in Florida offers behavioral healthcare and treatment services for individuals living with mental illness. Call the Mental Health Resource Center at 904-695-9145 to learn more about their various inpatient and outpatient treatment services.

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) provides an online Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator that provides information about treatment facilities in the US.

Thoughts of death and suicide is a common symptom of depression. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7. For more mental health information regarding suicide prevention, visit the American Physiatric Association’s website.

Treatment for Depression

Evidence based treatment options for depression include psychotherapy, medication, and support groups.

A common type of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy, focuses on challenging unhelpful thought patterns to influence one’s mood and behavioral health. Antidepressant medications may also be prescribed to alleviate symptoms of depression.

Engaging in healthy habits that promote physical health such as following a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, prioritizing sleep and managing stress are proven to have a significant impact on boosting mental wellbeing.

It is imperative for individuals living with mental illness to develop a strong support system. Many individuals find it helpful to join support groups to give and receive emotional support and feedback. Support groups provide a safe community connect with others who can relate to the challenges of navigating mental illness.

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) provides an online Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator that provides information about treatment facilities in the US.

What to Do Next

If you have taken a depression test and it indicates that all is well, wait and see how you feel over the next week. If you're still concerned, you can always take the test again and notice if the results improve or worsen.

Depression questionnaire results that show you have some level of depression are a good indicator that you should at least speak to a professional to be evaluated for depression. Licensed counselors are available at BetterHelp.com to help you assess your mood further and decide on a course of action. Depression rarely resolves itself without treatment, and it can often get much worse. Is now the time to seek help? When you decide to make that move and take a screening test, you are embracing life and working toward better times in the future.

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