Depression is one of the most common emotional disorders in the United States. Yet less than half of those who suffer with depression seek and find the help they need. Why do so few people discover that what they’re feeling is depression, and, if you think that one of those people might be you, how can you know for sure?

Many people with major depression have been living with the disease for so long, they don’t even recognize it as a disease. They think it’s “just the way things are.” In reality, depression is a disease—a disease that is treatable when properly diagnosed. If you’ve been living with the symptoms of major depression, it’s important to reach out to medical professionals to find the help you need. You do not have to suffer with major depression.

Because depression presents itself as both physical and emotional symptoms and is caused by genetic, environmental, behavioral and lifestyle factors, diagnosis can involve several different processes.

The doctor will perform a physical exam, blood tests, x-rays and ask some questions to determine if your depressive symptoms are caused by a health issue such as illness or medication. Many symptoms of depression are physical, including headaches, stomach discomfort, and chronic fatigue, so it’s important to figure out if there could be any actual health problems present. If you receive a clean bill of health, the physical problems you’re experiencing might be depression.

  • If no health problems are present, the doctor will ask some questions about how you’ve been feeling emotionally. The doctor might ask:
  • Have you been having feelings of hopelessness or sadness? If so, when and for how long?
  • Have you experienced either a noticeable increase or decrease in appetite?
  • Have you noticed a significant decrease in sex drive?
  • Have you been experiencing an overwhelming need for more sleep than usual, or have you been experiencing bouts of insomnia?
  • As far as you know, has anyone in your family ever been diagnosed with depression or some other form of emotional or mental disorder?
  • Have you thought about suicide or attempted to commit suicide?
  • Do you use drugs or alcohol to change the way you feel? If so, how much do you consume and how often?

These are some of the initial questions a doctor might ask if he or she thinks you might be suffering from depression.

The specific screening tools used to identify depression are:

Self-reporting scales.

You are given a checklist of symptoms and determine which ones you feel you’re experiencing and the degree to which you’re affected.

Observance by a clinician.

Because it is difficult for those with depression to understand their symptoms, scales performed through the observance of a clinician can detect depression the patient might not be aware of.

Interviews with a therapist or doctor.

This is the best of both worlds, as the patient gets to express their own feelings about what they’re experiencing. Then the doctor or therapist gets to guide the patient and observe their answers.

As of yet, there are not tests available that can detect a chemical imbalance to diagnose depression. While certain tests might be performed if the doctor suspects a physical problem as a possible cause of the depression, doctors will only perform lab tests to diagnose or treat depression in specific cases. Other tests might be needed to determine whether what you’re experiencing is depression or some other problem. Further tests can include:

Psychological tests.

These tests will help the doctor to determine your temperament, organizational and planning skill levels, and your coping mechanisms through a series of questions, responses to pictures, and your performance of certain tasks.

Brain scans.

In rare cases, a doctor might call for tests to look at the brain. These tests include EEGs and MRIs and can eliminate other neurological disorders as possible causes of your depression. There’s no need to worry; they’re completely painless.

Blood tests

These can help a doctor to determine if biological causes such as thyroid dysfunction are the cause of depressive symptoms.

If you feel that you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to tell your doctor. Once you’ve received proper diagnosis, you can begin finding help and getting on with your life without a cloud of depression hanging over you.

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