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How Is Depression Diagnosed?

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Updated October 18, 2012

If you suspect that you may be depressed, your first visit should be to your family doctor for a thorough checkup. There are several medical conditions that can cause depression symptoms, such as vitamin and mineral deficiencies, female hormonal changes and thyroid conditions.

In addition, some medications can have depression as a side-effect. If your doctor does not find any of these factors to be the cause of your symptoms, you will then be referred to a mental health professional for further evaluation.

There is no current laboratory test that can be used to diagnose depression. Depression is diagnosed based on your reported symptoms, signs that your doctor observes during the interview, your medical history and your family's medical history.

Your doctor will begin the diagnostic process by asking you a series of questions. Questions that you may be asked include:

  • What are your symptoms?
  • How long have you had these symptoms?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • Have you had these symptoms before?
  • Have you been treated for depression before?
  • If so, what treatments were you given and which worked best?
  • Do any of your relatives have depression?
  • If so, were your relatives treated for depression and which treatments worked best?
  • Do you use drugs or drink alcohol?
  • Have you thought about death or suicide?

The purpose for asking this type of questions is to see if you meet the diagnostic criteria set forth in a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which contains a set of guidelines for the diagnosis of various mental disorders. If you best meet the criteria for major depressive disorder, then you will receive that diagnosis.

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