How is depression diagnosed?

You can‘t tell if someone is depressed by taking blood tests or x-rays. Instead, experts in mental health have developed a system of diagnosing depression based on a checklist of signs and symptoms. This is called the DSM-IV system and was developed by the American Psychiatric Association.

According to this system, a person may have a Major Depressive Disorder if they have five symptoms most days for at least two weeks, including:

First, at least one of the following symptoms:

An unusually sad mood OR lack of pleasure and lack of enjoyment Calendar with 2 weeks highlighted

Several of the following to make at least 5 in total:

Considerable weight loss or weight gain; Too much or too little sleep/waking early; Slowed down or agitated; Fatigue/lack of energy; Feeling guilty or feeling worthless; Concentration problems, difficulty making decisions; Thoughts of suicide

Problems functioning in some area of everyday living (such as at work or socially)


Sometimes symptoms like those above can be due to a physical illness or drugs. For example, certain medical conditions, illegal substances and legal medications can directly cause depression. In addition, someone with a bipolar disorder may experience periods of depression. For this reason if you have the symptoms of depression it is important to consult a knowledgeable medical practitioner for a proper diagnosis.

Click here to read about how Dysthymia is diagnosed.

Click here to read about how Bipolar Disorder is diagnosed.

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