How to Diagnose Depression?

Depression Diagnosis and Prognosis - Diagnosis of Depression is difficult as there are no lab tests that can confirm it. Your doctor will evaluate you based on signs and symptoms, your medical history and your family's medical history.

Dr Poonam Sachdev
Mental HealthWritten by: Dr Poonam SachdevPublished at: Mar 27, 2012Updated at: Mar 31, 2012
How to Diagnose Depression?

How to Diagnose Depression

Diagnosing depression can be difficult as there are no laboratory tests that can be used to diagnose depression. The doctor diagnoses depression based on the signs and symptoms, your medical history and your family's medical history.


Medical History

Currently depression is diagnosed based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) criteria. You will be asked a series of questions which are filled in a questionnaire. Some of the questions which your doctor may ask are:

  • What are your symptoms and the duration of the symptoms?
  • Severity of your symptoms.
  • If this the first time you have had these symptoms or have you experienced them before.
  • Have you ever received treatment for depression?
  • If yes –then the treatments were you given and which worked best?
  • Do you have family history of depression?
  • If yes then what kind of treatment he or she received and which worked best?
  • Do you take drugs or consume alcohol excessively?
  • Do you have thoughts of death or suicide?


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) criteria


Depression is diagnosed by DSM-IV criteria in the presence of majority of these symptoms:

  • Depressed mood on most days of a week or nearly every day, which may be indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation of people close to you (e.g., appears tearful). Children and adolescents may not appear sad or withdrawn. In this age group, depression may be characterized by an irritable mood.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities on most days of a week or nearly every day.
  • Significant change in weight. Weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or change of appetite (decrease or increase) nearly every day.
  • Loss of sleep or excessive sleepiness nearly every day.
  • Irritability, restlessness, agitation or psychomotor retardation nearly every day.
  • Feeling tired and exhausted nearly every day even after adequate rest and sleep.
  • Feeling useless, worthless or guilty all the time.
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate and trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things nearly  on all days.
  • Constant aches and pain (such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain).
  • Having recurrent thoughts of death or suicide (suicidal ideation without a specific plan), or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

Your doctor will record your answers to see if you meet the DSM-IV criteria, which has a set of guidelines for the diagnosis of various mental disorders. If your answers meet the criteria for major depressive disorder, then you will be diagnosed with depression.


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