Is There A Depression Scale?

Updated February 27, 2020

Reviewer Sonya Bruner

A depression scale is a measurement of depressive symptoms. It can be used by individuals and clinicians to determine if further involvement by mental health professionals is necessary. A depression scale is not a diagnostic tool, but simply a measurement of potential symptoms.

There are several different depression scales. Different scales are used for different groups of people, and to measure different types of depression. In order to understand what scale should be used and by whom, you must first understand how these scales are used and know the differences between them.


How Depression Scales Are Used

Depression scales are used to determine if additional care and diagnostic measures need to be taken with individuals. You may be asked to complete a depression scale when you are first visiting a therapist or psychiatrist for the first time. You may also be asked to complete a depression scale by your primary care doctor if they feel your physical symptoms may be related to depression.

Depression scales are also used during treatment to measure the success of said treatment. If you are undergoing treatment for depression, you may be asked to complete a depression scale many times throughout your treatment. This helps your doctor or therapist to know if the treatment is effective, or if changes in the treatment plan need to be made.

Who Should Use A Depression Scale

Anyone who has potential symptoms of depression should use a depression scale. Some of the depression scales were developed for specific groups of people. For example, many geriatric patients are asked to complete a depression scale by their primary care doctors, or by nursing home staff. Women who have just given birth are generally asked to complete a depression scale. Caregivers and adolescents are other groups that may routinely be asked to complete a depression scale.

However, anyone may have the need to complete a depression scale. If you may have symptoms of depression, you may want to take this scale assessment yourself. You can easily find copies of the depression scales online to gauge your own symptoms to determine if you need to contact a therapist or psychiatrist for further assistance and possible diagnosis.

When To Use A Depression Scale

You may use a depression scale if you think you may be having symptoms of depression. Some of the common symptoms of depression that people are quick to notice are changes in appetite or sleep pattern. While there can be many reasons for these symptoms, presentation of these symptoms usually prompts the use of a depression scale to determine if depression is the cause of these and other symptoms. Please keep in mind that many scales can be difficult to score - and it may require the assistance of a professional to interpret.


Depression Scales For Specific Groups

As mentioned, there are different depression scales designed for different groups of people. Understanding the different depression scales and who they were designed for can help you determine which depression scale is right for you if you are doing the assessment on your own at home. Some of the scales, although designed for a specific group, have been found to be useful for other groups as well.

Geriatric Depression Scale

The Geriatric Depression Scale was developed for use in older adults. It consists of questions that only require a yes or no. The original scale was developed with 30 questions, but an equally effective short form of the scale has been developed with only 15 questions. This scale is important because the questions accurately measure depression while taking into account the symptoms of Alzheimer's or dementia that some elderly people may be suffering from.

Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale was recently developed as a screening tool to identify new mothers who may be in need of a mental health assessment. Many women experience postnatal depression, and this scale has been designed with their specific needs in mind. It is recommended that all women take this assessment before and after giving birth, but the need is very great for the assessment to be taken within 6 to 12 weeks after giving birth. Many obstetrics professionals will likely be implementing this depression scale with their patients in the near future.

CES-D Scale

The CES-D Scale stands for Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression scale. This depression scale was developed specifically to target the needs of caregivers. Caregivers face tremendous amounts of stress, pressure, and responsibility that can easily lead to depression. This scale was developed to identify those caregivers who may be in need of a mental health assessment.

However, while the CES-D scale was originally developed for caregivers, it has also been used in other ways. Several studies have been conducted as to the accuracy of this depression scale in the general population. One study found that the scale was acceptable for use in high school and college students. Another study found that the scale is accurate for the general population.

Calgary Depression Scale

The Calgary Depression Scale was developed by Dr. Donald Addington with the University of Calgary. This depression scale is designed specifically for patients with schizophrenia. There was a need for this scale because most depression scales do not distinguish between symptoms of depression and the negative and positive symptoms of schizophrenia.

The Calgary Depression Scale allows for this distinction. It accurately assesses the existence of depressive symptoms in psychotic patients. This is a great breakthrough, and many studies have been done to verify the accuracy and effectiveness of this scale. It is not appropriate for any other groups.

Reynolds Adolescent Depression Scale

The Reynolds Adolescent Depression Scale was developed by Dr. William Reynolds in 1987, and it has since that time been the usual measure of depression in adolescents aged 11 through 20. A revision was done of the scale in 2002, which has been shown to be even more effective than the original publication.

This depression scale has 30 items that relate specifically to teens in order to identify symptoms of depression. The scale is geared toward this group of adolescents, which means that the questions and instructions are on a level that they can easily understand. This scale also met an unmet need. While many depression scales are accurate for adolescents as well as the general population, the Reynolds Depression Scale is more effective because it is more easily understood by this age group.

Hamilton Depression Scale

The Hamilton Depression Scale is perhaps the most commonly used depression scale. It has been found to be very effective with the general population. This scale was originally published by Max Hamilton in 1960. Revisions were done in 1966, 1967, 1969, and 1980. Depending on the version the Hamilton Depression Scale consists of 17 to 29 items.


There has been some controversy about the Hamilton Depression Scale because researchers say it places too much emphasis on symptoms like insomnia, and not enough emphasis on feelings of sadness and hopelessness, or suicidal thoughts. However, Hamilton refuted these concerns, maintaining that the depression scale is a self-report tool for patients to measure the severity of their depression, not as a diagnostic or treatment tool.

Choosing The Right Depression Scale

Choosing the right depression scale is usually a matter best left up to the doctor or clinician who is administering the assessment. However, if you want to take an assessment to measure your depression at home, the most common scale you will find is the Hamilton Depression Scale. It is best if you feel that you may have symptoms of depression that you contact a therapist so that you can be evaluated. The therapist will likely administer a depression scale, but they will be able to choose the most appropriate one, check the scoring, and interpret the results.

Getting Help

If you are feeling symptoms of possible depression, or you are worried that some of your physical symptoms such as insomnia and appetite changes are the result of depression, you should reach out for help. Contact a therapist or psychiatrist right away so that you can be assessed by a mental health professional and seek treatment if necessary.

Depression scales are an important self-report tool, but they are no substitute for seeing a therapist or psychiatrist for an actual diagnosis. In addition, the professionals will know best which depression scale you should be using based on your demographics and symptoms.

Depression is a very treatable mental illness. There are many treatments available including psychotherapy and medication therapies. However, the depression will not get better if you do not seek help. If you are feeling sad, hopeless, having changes in sleep or appetite, or other possible symptoms of depression, you should seek out help immediately. The sooner you get help, the easier it will be to treat the depression.

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