Depression Screening: What To Know Before You Go

When you have depression, a mood condition, you may experience intense sadness or lose interest in previously appreciated activities. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it can also affect how you eat, sleep, and how much energy you have.

Additional indications of depression include:

  • feelings of despair or anxiety
  • being quickly irritated or frustrated
  • difficulty paying attention
  • Inexpiable pain  and discomfort
  • Sexually dysfunction
  • Suicidal or self-harmful thoughts

It can affect practically every area of your life, including how you feel, act, and think. So, if you believe you have depression, it’s crucial to get professional help.

Your physician (or another healthcare professional) may advise you to take a depression test, commonly known as a depression screening. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified holistic health counselor, and the director of adult and teen mental health at Clear Recovery Center in Redondo Beach, California, Lindsey Akerman explains, “Depression screenings are tools used by clinicians to test patients and figure out whether or not they have depression, as well as [evaluate] the severity of symptoms.”


The purpose of screening is to determine whether you might profit from expert mental health treatment in addition to diagnosing your depression.


Why Might I Need Depression Screening?

Because depression can be a severe mental condition that severely impairs a person’s ability to function in many areas of their life. Although it’s crucial to learn how to manage the condition, which begins with a depression screening, people with depression can lead happy, fulfilling lives.


According to Akerman, most persons who receive depression screening have already made the first step of asking for help as a result of developing new or worsening mental health symptoms. In order to evaluate the efficacy of the treatment, screenings are also used, according to her.

According to Hannah Fox, DNP, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner with the Stella Center, a company that offers a variety of mental health treatments, you might also be handed a depression questionnaire during a regular health visit at your primary care provider’s office. “Depression screening can be a part of an annual physical and is required by some insurance companies,” she explains.

You should be open and honest when answering the questions so that you can be correctly evaluated and receive any necessary therapy, whether you’re taking the depression test as part of a standard checkup or because you’ve been experiencing symptoms of depression.


What Happens During a Depression Screening?

A number of healthcare facilities, including a primary care physician’s office, a psychiatric clinic, or a therapy office, offer depression screenings. You might undergo a depression screening in the same location where you typically receive medical care.

A licensed therapist, social worker, professional counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner are just a few of the professionals that can conduct a depression screening, according to Akerman.

A depression screening simply entails responding to a series of questions, either on paper or aloud to a healthcare professional in a private setting. The word “screening” may sound scary and a little intimidating.

The Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) are a few examples of evidence-based scales (or sets of questions) used to evaluate patients for depressive symptoms. These questions are available online, but a mental health professional should administer and interpret them.

Depending on your healthcare provider’s preference, they can all be used interchangeably to diagnose depression and assess the severity of symptoms.

The primary topics on each scale are highlighted.

“The questions during a depression screening may vary, but typically focus on a person’s mood, energy level, sleep patterns, appetite, focus, and thoughts of self-harm or suicide,” explains Brent Nelson, MD, an adult interventional psychiatrist and chief medical information officer at PrairieCare in Edina, Minnesota.

The questions are often provided in a self-report format with a numerical scale to help identify the severity of each symptom, adds Akerman. One example, per Akerman, from the BDI:

“In general, how sad have you been feeling lately?”

  • 0: I do not feel sad.
  • 1: I feel sad.
  • 2: I am sad all the time, and I can’t snap out of it.
  • 3: I am so sad and unhappy that I can’t stand it.

“The scores are added up at the end to determine if you have depression and how severe it is,” says Akerman.

How Can I Prepare for a Depression Screening?

The procedure for a depression test is quite simple, and there is not much prep work needed before your appointment. To make the most of your visit and to mentally get ready for the questions you’ll be asked, there are a few things you can do.

Write down any symptoms you’ve been having, along with when you first noticed them, advises Dr. Nelson. He continues, “Any past medical history and current drugs should also be brought along.

Try to be open-minded and ready to honestly respond to any challenging questions when you arrive for your session. Do not forget that your provider is there to assist you, not to judge you. During these meetings, you can and ought to try to be totally honest with them.


I Want to Do a Depression Screening — Now What?

You can call to schedule a consultation with your primary care physician, who you probably already know and trust. Alternately, you can arrange for care with a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, or certified therapist. Any of these medical experts is capable of diagnosing, treating, and screening for depression.

Regardless of who you choose, taking the initial step and making an appointment with someone is frequently the most crucial. When necessary, referrals between specialties can be established after your evaluation so you can receive the assistance you require.

For instance, if you choose to begin with your primary care physician for a depression test and they determine that therapy would be beneficial for you, they can make a therapist referral for you. If you first consult a therapist and they determine that you would benefit from medication, they can recommend that you see a psychiatrist (or another qualified individual who can write the prescription) for you.


What Happens After a Depression Screening?

Your provider may suggest a few next steps to assist you receive professional treatment if the findings of your depression screening show you have depression.

According to Dr. Fox, psychiatric drugs, counselling, or suggestions for lifestyle changes including diet and exercise are all possible treatments for depression.

According to the Mayo Clinic, you could need long-term treatment for your depression. This is true because depression frequently has recurring episodes and is a chronic condition. But thankfully, talk therapy, medicine, or a mix of the two often makes many people with depressive disorders feel better. According to study, about 50 percent of persons who have one depressive episode won’t have another.

“Depression is real, common, and treatable,” asserts Nelson. “There are a variety of options to treat depression, so having access to a provider and starting the treatment process is most important.”

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