How Do Doctors Screen for Depression?

Depression is a serious mental health issue. If you have depression, it can get in the way of how you live your life and your quality of life. It can also affect your relationships.

You may suspect that you have depression but aren’t sure. Your family or friends may also worry that you have depression. They may ask you to seek help.

If you or your loved ones think you may have depression, talk to your doctor. You don’t have to suffer in silence. They can do a depression screening to figure out what’s going on and provide treatment to help you feel better.

How Do You Know If You Have Depression

There’s no shame in having depression. But people often keep their depression to themselves instead of seeking help.

Depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the United States. Some 21 million U.S. adults — or more than 8% — had at least one major depressive episode in 2020. That’s according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Depression is also common in teens. More than 4 million Americans aged 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in 2020. That accounts for 17% of people in this age group.

Signs and symptoms of depression

You may not realize you have depression. You may not know all the signs. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Ongoing sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
  • Feeling hopeless or negative about life.
  • Feeling irritable, frustrated, or restless.
  • Feeling guilty, helpless, or worthless.
  • Losing interest in hobbies or activities you once enjoyed.
  • Tiredness, fatigue, or decreased energy.
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
  • Problems sleeping, waking up too early, or oversleeping.
  • Changes in appetite or unexpected weight loss or gain.
  • Headaches, muscle aches, cramps, or stomach problems without a clear physical cause or don’t get better with treatment.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts.

Mental Health America has an online depression test. This test is the first step to grasping your mental health. But always follow up with your doctor to ensure nothing else is causing your symptoms.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

Getting a Depression Diagnosis

If you suspect depression, your doctor can help figure it out with a depression screening. Your doctor may do a physical exam. They may also ask about your family and medical history.

Depression screening is the main way doctors decide if you have depression. It’s a series of questions created by mental health professionals. These questions can help you figure out whether your mental health problems are depression or something else.

Depression screening questions can include:

  • What kind of symptoms you have.
  • The severity of these symptoms from mild to severe.
  • The frequency of these symptoms.
  • If your symptoms interfere with your daily life and activities.
  • How long you have had these symptoms. To get a diagnosis of major depression, you need to have symptoms for two weeks or more.
  • If anyone in your family has depression or other mental health issues.
  • Ongoing health conditions you have, such as diabetes, cancer, COPD, chronic pain, or heart disease.
  • If you are part of an at-risk population. These include veterans or active military, LGBTQ+, trauma survivors, caregivers, or healthcare workers.
  • If personal problems, such as home, school, or work, could be causing your depression.
  • Whether you have survived past trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse.

Screening for peripartum depression

If you are pregnant or recently gave birth, your obstetrician or gynecologist will screen you for depression. Up to 70% of women experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and irritability during and after pregnancy. That’s according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

When major depression happens during or after pregnancy, doctors call it peripartum depression. You may have also heard of it as postpartum depression. One in seven women experiences depression related to their pregnancy or childbirth, according to the APA.

Along with symptoms of major depression, symptoms of peripartum depression also include:

  • Lack of interest in your baby.
  • Not feeling bonded to your baby.
  • Feeling very anxious about or around your baby.
  • Thinking you are a bad mother.
  • Worry or fear that you will harm your baby or yourself.

Along with peripartum depression, there are several other types of depression. The kind of depression you have may affect your treatment.

When to Talk to Your Doctor?

It’s crucial to contact your doctor if you think you have depression. The earlier treatment begins, the more it can help.

Treatment for depression

Treatment for depression includes medicine, talk therapy, or a mix of the two.


Doctors may prescribe antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or antipsychotics. These work on some of the chemicals in your brain to help control your depression.

Medicines may take a while to work, and you may need to try a few different types before finding the right one. Your doctor will monitor you for side effects.

Talk therapy

During talk therapy, you discuss your depression and symptoms with a licensed mental health professional. Talk therapy is also called psychotherapy.

You can do talk therapy alone or in a group setting. Your therapist can help you figure out what’s causing your depression and help you find ways to overcome or manage it.

Brain stimulation therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy, or brain stimulation, uses electrical waves to stimulate the parts of your brain that regulate mood. Your mental health worker may suggest this if medicines or therapy aren’t helping.

When Depression is an Emergency

If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide or self-harm, get help right away. You can call or text 988 for help. You can also reach mental health professionals online by chatting at

Major Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Link.

Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Link.

Mental Health America. Depression Test. Link.

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.