How is depression diagnosed?

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 are never diagnosed or treated for their illness. And not getting treatment can be life-threatening: up to 10 percent of people battling depression commit suicide.

Your health care provider can evaluate your condition by asking you to describe your symptoms. Since patients recovering from a medical illness, hospitalization or surgical procedure experience some common symptoms of depression including fatigue and insomnia,your health care provider will pay attention to these additional symptoms of depression:

  • Withdrawal from activities
  • Lack of reactivity from visits with family and friends Increased negative thoughts
  • Tearfulness

Sometimes, symptoms of depression can be made worse by certain medications, a physical disorder, virus or illness. Your health care provider may perform a physical exam or laboratory tests to determine if there is a physical cause for your depressive symptoms.

Your health care provider will also evaluate your personal and family medical history, as well as any history of drug or alcohol use.

Although there are no specific blood tests used to diagnose depression, there are various screening tools and diagnostic criteria used to make the proper diagnosis.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended that clinicians ask two screening questions for depression, known as the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-2), including:

  1. Over the past 2 weeks, have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless?
  2. Over the past 2 weeks, have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?

If you answer yes to both of these questions, there is a high likelihood of clinical depression, and your health care provider can provide recommendations to help you get the treatment you need. Your health care provider can also administer the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9), a nine-item question list that can better define your depression and guide treatment.

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