A diagnosis of depression is based on symptoms meeting specific criteria. [See Introduction section of this report.] Many people who are depressed first seek help from their family doctors. Guidelines recommend that family doctors screen for depression in adults and adolescents (ages 12 - 18), as long as these doctors have appropriate systems in place to ensure accurate diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of their patients.
To check if you have depression, a doctor may ask you questions such as:
- Over the past month, have you felt down, depressed or hopeless?
- Over the past month, have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?
Individuals who have certain factors might ask their doctor if they should be screened for depression. These include:
- People with a family or personal history of depression
- Patients with multiple medical problems
- Patients with physical symptoms that have no clear medical cause
- Patients with chronic pain
- Individuals who visit their doctor more frequently than expected
Mental health professionals may administer a screening test such as the Beck Depression Inventory or the Hamilton Rating Scale, both of which consist of about 20 questions that assess the individual for depression. However, most mental health professionals generally diagnose depression based on symptoms and other criteria.
Symptoms of depression can vary depending on a person’s cultural and ethnic background. For example, people from non-Western countries are more apt to report physical symptoms (such as headache, constipation, weakness, or back pain) related to the depression, rather than mood-related symptoms.
Ruling Out Other Conditions
Depression can sometimes be confused with other medical illnesses. Weight loss and fatigue, for example, accompany many conditions, some serious, but they can also occur with depression.
Review Date: 01/27/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.