Diagnosing Depression

The biggest hurdle to diagnosing and treating depression is recognizing that someone is suffering from it. Unfortunately, approximately half of the people who experience depression never get diagnosed or treated for their illness. And not getting treatment can be life threatening: More than 10% of people battling depression commit suicide.

How Is Depression Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of depression often begins with a medical history and a physical exam by a doctor. There are certain viruses, medicines, hormonal or vitamin deficiencies, and illnesses that can cause depression-like symptoms. The doctor will want to know when your symptoms began, how long they have lasted, and how severe they are. He or she will ask whether you have had similar symptoms before, and about past treatments you may have received. Your family history is important, as is any history of drug or alcohol use. Although there is no specific test that a mental health expert can use to diagnose depression, there are certain features that he or she will look for during a clinical interview to make the proper diagnosis.

If a physical cause for the depression is not identified, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist for a more detailed mental health evaluation. The psychologist or psychiatrist will determine the best course of treatment.  A psychiatrist might advise  antidepressants, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. A psychologist might advise psychotherapy or evaluation by a psychiatrist to assess the role for medications or other biologically-based treatments.  


How Do I Know When to Seek Help?

  • When depression is negatively affecting your life such as causing difficulties with relationships, work issues, or family disputes and there isn't a clear solution to these problems, you should seek help to prevent things from getting worse, especially if these feelings persist for any length of time.
  • If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or feelings, seek help immediately.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on May 18, 2016



National Institute of Mental Health: "How is depression diagnosed and treated?"

© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.