How is Depression Diagnosed?

Unlike many physical illnesses, depression cannot be diagnosed by a blood test, x-ray or other lab examination. It can also take many different forms depending on the individual. So how does a doctor determine if someone has depression?

When an individual first exhibits symptoms of depression or any mental health condition, they will be referred to a mental health professional. This doctor will want to talk through symptoms with the individual and use this discussion to help them determine a diagnosis.

Some symptoms a mental health professional might want to discuss include feelings of sadness, how the person’s sleep patterns have been affected, how high/low their energy levels are, if they are motivated, what their self-esteem is like, how their eating habits are and if they’ve had any thoughts of suicide. They will ask questions about these areas and typically give a scale that can be answered which helps to determine the severity of the symptoms and potential diagnosis.


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Another factor that will be considered in a depression diagnosis is how long the symptoms have been present for. They need to have been noticeable for at least two weeks for a major depressive episode to be diagnosed. This element will help determine if a person has a unipolar or bipolar mental health disorder.

Family history is also something that can be considered in any mental health diagnosis, depression included. In other words, depressive illnesses tend to run in families so if someone has a family member with depression, it is more likely that they will too.

All in all, it’s important to recognize that mental health conditions—including depression—are very complex and should only be diagnosed by a mental health professional. If you or someone you know exhibits potential signs of depression, be sure to get help and support as soon as possible.