Browse All Categories
Mental Health Associates of the Triad
By Mental Health Associates of the Triad on October 04, 2022

Depression Screening and Diagnosis: The Complete Process and the Importance of Getting One

  • Table of Content

Depression is a mental health disorder, so physical screenings, like blood tests, won’t detect it. Instead, health care providers use depression screenings to help diagnose the condition.

Most depression screenings simply ask questions. Answers to the questions help mental health care providers diagnose depression and its severity, distinguishing between normal sadness, moderate depression, and severe depression.

If you have depression, you don’t have to live with this mental health condition. You can get help. A depression screening is the first step on the road to recovery, and recovery won’t happen by itself.

At its worst, depression can cause suicide. If you’ve been struggling with thoughts of suicide, don’t wait for a proper depression screening. Get help today. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988.

Depression screening process

Some people get screened for depression by their primary care physician during an annual physical exam. The doctor might ask a series of screening questions in person, or the questions may be printed on a page for the patient to fill out in the waiting room.

Other patients get screened by a mental health care specialist. Often, these patients are experiencing the symptoms of depression, and they know they need help. Still, other patients are urged by family and friends to get screened for depression.

Whatever prompted the screening, the process usually begins with a conversation or a sequence of questions, and the answers to these questions can help doctors and mental health experts diagnose depression.

No needles or swabs will be needed to diagnose depression. However, a primary care physician may want to run tests to rule out physical causes for the symptoms of depression.

Do I need a screening for depression?

If you’ve been contemplating suicide, don’t wait for a screening or an official diagnosis of depression. Seek help immediately by calling a mental health provider, your primary care physician, or a friend or family member you trust.

You could also call 911, go to an emergency room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988.

If you’re not in immediate danger but think you might have depression, a depression screening test can offer a reliable way to find out whether your symptoms reach the level of depression. While it’s normal to feel down once in a while, experiencing the symptoms of depression for two weeks at a time — and for no known reason — is a sign of depression.

The symptoms of depression include:

    • Loss of interest in hobbies, social activities, or sex
    • An increase in anger and irritability
    • Trouble falling asleep or trouble staying asleep
    • Sleeping too much
    • Lack of energy and focus
    • Feeling restless
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Feeling worthless or guilty
    • Unplanned changes in weight
    • Having suicidal thoughts

Some people who have depression experience only a few of these symptoms. Others experience more. It’s also possible to have different symptoms on different days.

Depression screening questions

Many practitioners use the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, or PHQ-9, test to screen for depression. There are some variations on this test, but they all work the same way: You’ll answer the questions with a number from 0 to 3.

You can screen yourself for depression by completing the following steps:

Step 1: Find something to write (or type) on

Find something to write on — or open the notes app on your phone or computer. We’ll be writing down some numbers so you can add them up later.

Step 2: Know what the screening numbers mean

The PHQ-9 has four possible answers to each question about your experience with the symptoms of depression. Here’s what the answers mean: 

    • 0 — You haven’t experienced the symptom at all over the past two weeks.
    • 1 — You have experienced the symptom several days within the past two weeks.
    • 2 — You’ve experienced the symptom more than half of the days in the past two weeks.
    • 3 — You’ve experienced the symptom nearly every day (or every day) for the past two weeks.

Step 3: Write down your numbers

Record your 0, 1, 2, or 3 in response to the following symptoms. Remember, the numbers should reflect your experience over the past two weeks. Here are the symptoms: 

    1. Little interest or pleasure in doing things
    2. Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless
    3. Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
    4. Feeling tired or having little energy
    5. Poor appetite or overeating
    6. Feeling bad about yourself—or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down
    7. Trouble concentrating on things such as reading the newspaper or watching television
    8. Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed? Or the opposite—being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual
    9. Thoughts that you would be better off dead or hurting yourself in some way

Step 4: Do the math

Now it’s time to add up your numbers. If you answered all the questions, your number should fall between 0 and 27. Here’s what your number indicates: 

    • 1-4: Minimal depression
    • 5-9: Mild depression
    • 10-14: Moderate depression
    • 15-19: Moderately severe depression
    • 20-27: Severe depression

Step 5: Next steps

This self-test can be a helpful guide, but it’s not the source of a formal depression diagnosis. If you scored moderate to high on the test, please make an appointment to get an official screening. Modern treatments for depression have a high success rate. Your journey to recovery could begin today.

Getting help for depression

We’re fortunate to live in a time and place where mental health conditions can be treated successfully. In High Point and Greensboro, Mental Health Associates of the Triad offers in-person appointments. Make your appointment online today.

If you live in another area, search for mental health care clinics in your region or visit your primary care physician.

And, once again, don’t wait for an appointment if you’re thinking about suicide. It’s depression that’s making you feel like this and help for depression is a phone call away. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988.

Reviewed by Karen Rudd, LMFT, LCAS

Request an Appointment

Request an Appointment