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Diagnosis of Depression

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:


Diagnosis of Depression

The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. The doctor may look for physical causes of depression. These findings will be used to make the diagnosis. There is no single test to do this.

The person will have a:

  • Physical exam—Certain medicines and health conditions can cause the same symptoms. The doctor can rule these out with a physical exam, questionnaires, and lab tests. This may involve tests to check for problems with speech, thought patterns, or memory.
  • Psychological exam—This exam is given by a mental health professional. The person may take a special screening test. These tests do not provide all the answers. They must also consider the person's situation and how these problems are affecting them.
  • The person may also be tested for other mental health problems. Those that can happen in people with depression may be:

A diagnosis is based on:

  • Having symptoms for 2 weeks or more
  • How many days a week the person feels them—almost daily
  • How many symptoms the person has—5 or more
  • What symptoms the person has

The person will be asked about symptoms:

  • When they started
  • What brings them on
  • How severe they are
  • How much they interfere with work or school
  • If they come with pain
  • If they had them before, if they were treated, and, if so, how
  • If they have thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Other people in the family with the same problems
  • If they bother their sleep patterns


  • Depressive disorders. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/mood-disorders/depressive-disorders.
  • Depression. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml.
  • Major depressive disorder (MDD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/major-depressive-disorder-mdd.


  • Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.