According to various statistics and research, depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the United States. Each year, approximately 17 million people older than 18 have at least one major depressive episode. Out of those who experience depression symptoms, over a third does not receive any treatment at all. The first step to overcoming depression is confirming the diagnosis with a medical professional. This complete guide to taking a depression test will help you achieve just that.

The numbers mentioned above are even worse in challenging times, such as the global COVID-19 pandemic that marked most of the year 2020. CDC reported that in the summer of 2020, 41% of US adults experienced problems with mental health and substance abuse. 

Depression can take different forms in different people. It causes various symptoms, some of which may be expected and some of which may not. This guide will help you learn more about this prevalent mental illness and take you through getting diagnosed by a mental health specialist.

Symptoms of Depression

A stereotypical form of depression involves sadness and suicidal thoughts. However, not everyone will experience these standard signs. Depending on the type of depressive disorder, it can include any combination of the following symptoms: 

  • Feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, and guilt
  • Anxious, “empty,” or sad feelings
  • Pessimism, hopelessness
  • Lack of interest in previously pleasurable activities, such as sex
  • Appetite changes – overeating or loss of appetite
  • Sleep changes – insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Irritability
  • Slowed movement – delayed or quiet speech
  • Restlessness – picking at clothes, pacing, inability to sit still
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches, cramps, aches, or pains that aren’t going away
  • Persistent digestive problems
  • Lack of concentration, trouble with memory and making decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts

Everyone experiences these types of feelings or sensations at some point in their lives. Short-term slumps in mood are normal. Everyone feels down from time to time, depending on their life circumstances. 

The difference between a mood dip and depression is that depression symptoms last longer. If several of these signs last for over two weeks (especially if it’s over a month or two), it’s time to see a medical professional.

Depression Causes

Most mental health conditions occur as a result of more than one factor. The same is true for depression – there is no single cause that leads to this disorder. It can be a range of causes, both physical and psychological. 

Here are the primary, scientifically proven causes of depression: 

  • Life circumstances: Sudden life changes, be they positive or negative, can cause depression. The biggest ones are divorce or an end of a significant relationship, loss of a loved one, financial problems, eviction, getting fired, and similar. Even typically happy occasions, such as having a baby, might trigger depression. 
  • Substance abuse: Drugs and alcohol abuse are direct causes of depression. Co-occurring disorders such as these can also worsen the symptoms in those who already have depression. 
  • Trauma: Traumatic events, especially in childhood, can cause depression later in life even if the person has seemingly already processed the events. 
  • Changes in brain function: A decreased function of the frontal lobe, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland has been observed in different depressive disorders.
  • Medical conditions and medication: Some physical conditions, such as vitamin D deficiency or chronic pain, are known causes of depression. Medication can also lead to this mental health disorder.
  • Genetics: If anyone in your family has been diagnosed with depression, there is a higher chance that you might develop it, too. 

Types of Depression

Just like there is no standard set of symptoms or causes, there is also no standard type of depression. Several different kinds can occur at different stages in life and for various reasons. 

  • Major Depression

Clinical depression, major depression, or major depressive disorder is the most prevalent type of depression. It can affect both people with and without a family history of depression. This disorder may make it challenging to perform daily activities such as work, study, eat, sleep, and enjoy different free-time activities. Some people experience only one major depressive episode in their life, while others may experience several. 

  • Persistent Depressive Disorder

Persistent depressive disorder is also called dysthymia or chronic depression. It is a type of mild depression, less severe than the one described above. However, symptoms of dysthymia last longer than those of major depression. At the same time, one person can suffer from both types of depression simultaneously, falling into what is known as double depression. 

  • Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder or manic depression is a complex mental health condition. It includes episodes of mania characterized by insomnia, reckless and risky behavior (such as substance abuse), racing thoughts, hallucinations, paranoia, grandiose delusions, or psychosis. These are followed by depressive episodes that can be so low they cause suicidal thoughts. The exact length and severity of each type of mood vary from person to person.

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD – seasonal depression – always occurs at the same time of year. For most people, that time of year is fall and winter, when they are less exposed to sunlight and the days are short. Winter SAD manifests in low energy levels, weight gain and increased appetite, trouble concentrating, and a more intense desire to be alone. 

SAD can also occur in spring and summer, though the symptoms are different: decreased appetite and weight loss, anxiety, and insomnia. 

  • Postpartum Depression

Some women experience a form of major depression after giving birth. This is called postpartum depression and usually occurs around four weeks after delivery. It is a complex depressive disorder that includes emotional, physical, and behavioral changes. These changes ultimately lead to the mother having difficulties taking care of herself and her new baby. 

  • Psychotic Depression

A mood disorder that involves both depression and psychosis is a subtype of major depression. Psychotic episodes could be hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, or any other type of break from reality. It is a difficult condition to diagnose because those suffering from it may be ashamed of their symptoms. This is one of the main reasons why complete transparency is crucial in the diagnosing process. 

Taking a Depression Test 

Given how many different shapes this mental health condition can take and how many symptoms it can cause, it is no wonder that a universal depression test doesn’t exist. Instead, your primary healthcare provider or mental health professional will utilize various questionnaires and diagnostic tools to assess your mental state. 

The first and main tool is having a conversation with the patient. 

Personal Interview

If you don’t want to see a mental health professional right away, you don’t have to. Your primary care doctor should be able to perform a preliminary assessment and recommend appointments for further evaluation. 

A personal interview is an invaluable method for diagnosing depression. You will be expected to answer a series of questions about your moods, behavior, attitudes, thoughts, and similar. The questions will also explore your activities, daily life, relationships with other people, and sensitive issues such as past trauma or sexual history. 

Some doctors may utilize an already established screening tool such as a depression quiz or questionnaire: 

  • Beck Depression Inventory (BDI)
  • Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D)
  • Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD, HDRS, or HAM-D)
  • The Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9)
  • Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale 

These are sets of predetermined questions, typically with multiple-choice answers, that help your specialist evaluate the particulars of your condition. 

It may feel a bit awkward, but you must be as open and honest as possible. Remember that you are there to get help – your doctor or potential therapist will not judge you for being depressed the same way they don’t judge a patient for getting the flu. Depression requires medical intervention – it is not something that people can work through on their own. 

Your answers during the interview process will help the specialist determine the type of depression and its severity. They will also form a treatment plan or ask for additional tests or assessments. 

Physical Examination

During most screening tests for mental illness, doctors perform physical examinations as well. Even though depression is a mental disorder, you can expect a physical exam to rule out other conditions during your visit.

As mentioned above, different physical illnesses can cause depression. They can be hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland), central nervous system tumors, multiple sclerosis, Cushing’s disease (overactive adrenal gland), and similar. A thorough physical exam will eliminate these causes of depression. 

On the other hand, if you receive a diagnosis for a physical condition that leads to a depressive mood, treating the condition will help with depressive symptoms. 

A health professional will also ask you about any medication you’re taking. Some drugs are known to cause depression, such as corticosteroids commonly prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Switching your medications or adjusting the dosage could help fight depressive symptoms. 

Lab Tests

Blood tests often accompany physical exams. To confirm that there is no underlying physical cause, your doctor will order blood work to check for vitamin D or calcium deficiency, anemia, and possibly hormone levels. 

Diagnosis: Depression

Once the personal interview is complete and all the physical exam and blood test results come in, you may get diagnosed with depression. It means you have completed the first step on your journey to improving your mental health and way of life! Now that you know what’s wrong, you can seek advice on how to fix it. 

At this point, you will likely be transferred to a psychotherapist. Based on your diagnosis, they will develop a treatment plan you will need to follow to start getting out of depression. 

This treatment plan may include: 

  • Antidepressant medication 

Antidepressants come in many different varieties. Which ones work for you depends on various scientific factors, such as your age, hormone activity, type of your depression, and more. The most important thing is to regularly take your medication, just like you would regularly take medication for high blood pressure. 

If you feel that your meds aren’t working or you’re experiencing adverse effects, talk to your therapist about changes you can make.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy

CBT is a type of talk therapy that you regularly participate in with your therapist. The goal of CBT is to learn to recognize thought patterns that have a negative effect on your behavior and emotions. Once you can identify them, you can also work on changing them to reduce destructive or disturbing behaviors. 

  • Lifestyle changes

Finally, your treatment may involve some big or small lifestyle changes. You may be required to reduce work stress, take up regular exercise, improve your diet, or strengthen relationships with your loved ones. It won’t be easy, but following your therapist’s recommendations and instructions will make a world of difference in your daily life. 

Conclusion

Researching your mental health symptoms before you turn to a medical professional has become standard practice. It is useful to familiarize yourself with the definition of depression, how it can manifest, its causes, and all the different forms it can take. 

However, don’t overlook the importance of turning to a healthcare provider who will make a definitive diagnosis and prescribe a treatment plan. Since there is no straightforward depression test, the screening process will involve answering questions, a physical examination, and possibly blood tests. 

Be as honest as you can – the more information you provide, the more accurate your diagnosis will be. The goal here is to identify your mental health issues and start the process of eliminating or lessening their impact on your life.

Depression is a treatable disorder. There is no reason to harbor negative feelings that affect your daily activities to the point you cannot function anymore. It can be helped with medication, talk therapy, and potential changes in lifestyle. 

Commit to getting better. For more information on how to get tested for depression, contact The Right Way Recovery. We will be glad to offer guidance on how to begin your journey of recovering from this common mental health condition.