Depression screening tools are different types of self-report surveys that help diagnose depression.

Depression is a common experience affecting up to 6% of the world’s population. It typically includes a set of symptoms in varying intensity that affect both mood and behavior. In the worst case, depression can also interfere with your ability to work or maintain relationships.

Healthcare professionals are trained to diagnose conditions with the help of tools and technology. Depression screening tests are one type of tool that professionals can use to screen you for the presence of depressive symptoms.

If you’ve been experiencing symptoms of depression and are thinking about seeing a mental health professional, you may be given a depression screening test. The test is simple and easy, and will be followed by a treatment plan.

Depression screening tools refer to a number of different self-report surveys used to determine if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of major depressive disorder. They’re mostly pen-and-paper assessments, but you can also fill them out electronically.

How does a depression test work?

Depression tests list various questions related to depression symptoms, and some will also ask you to rate the severity of those symptoms. Symptom severity corresponds to either the frequency or degree that you experience them. A health professional will give you the test to fill out during your visit.

There are various types of depression tests. Some tests are used for specific age groups, whereas others are used for specific circumstances. None are 100% reliable, but several commonly used tests can help diagnose depression with good overall accuracy.

The tests usually take a few minutes to complete and are straightforward, requiring no past medical history or other information. After you complete the test, the health professional will then evaluate your responses and determine the next best step.

Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ)

The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) is often a first-choice tool used by primary care professionals for most people. This is because it can help diagnose depression between 78% and 94% of the time. It can either be a two-question survey (PHQ-2) or a nine-question survey (PHQ-9).

The PHQ-2 is typically given first to assess for the overall presence of depressed mood. If necessary, it will be followed by the PHQ-9, which is more detailed and can help detect the overall severity of depression. The PHQ asks how many days per week you experience specific symptoms.

Beck Depression Inventory (BDI)

The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) consists of 21 depression-related questions. It asks that you rate the presence of key symptoms on a scale between 0 and 3. Higher scores indicate a more severe form of depression. The BDI is generally considered a reliable and accurate test.

Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI)

The Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI) is given to children and adolescents between the ages of 7 and 17. It’s written in simple language at a first-grade reading level. It has between 10 and 27 questions. A 2016 study showed that it’s between 44% and 76% effective at helping diagnose depression in children.

Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS)

The Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) is used for older adults ages 60 and over. The questions are in a yes-or-no format rather than a severity rating. It can have from 4 to 30 questions, and helps diagnose depression with 75% to 86% accuracy.

Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS)

If you’ve recently given birth and have been feeling blue, you may be given the 10-question Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). The Edinburgh scale asks you to rate the presence of certain symptoms experienced over the past week. A 2019 study found that the EPDS was approximately 94% effective.

Any healthcare professional involved in some aspect of mental or behavioral health can administer the test. A specialist isn’t required. This is because these tests are simple to administer and interpret.

This means you can speak with a primary care professional, a licensed mental health counselor, a social worker, or a psychologist. After taking the test, your healthcare professional can help you determine your best treatment plan.

A treatment plan typically follows depression screening. Your healthcare professional may deliver a diagnosis, such as major depressive disorder, and then discuss the treatment options.

Medications may be recommended as a first step to help stabilize your mood and improve other symptoms of depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are mainstay therapies.

Psychotherapy is also commonly recommended. You may be referred to a psychologist or psychotherapist for treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Additional treatments may involve self-care strategies, including:

A 2021 study showed that exercise recommendations, together with medications, improve symptoms of depression better than medications alone.

Depression screening tools are a valuable and simple asset for healthcare professionals. They’re mostly accurate at determining both the presence and degree of depressive symptoms, and they’re generally easy to fill out.

If you’re feeling symptoms of depression, visiting a healthcare professional is the first step in evaluating you for major depressive disorder. Based on your results, a mental health professional can work with you to determine a treatment plan.