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Diagnosis of depression

What is depression?

Depression is a mental health condition which can affect a person's ability to function.

The first step towards getting effective treatment of depression is to see a doctor or mental health professional. The doctor will do a mental health assessment and may refer to a psychiatrist for a more in-depth assessment.

A mental health assessment is a detailed and comprehensive interview, including questions about symptoms and their impact on work and relationships, any previous episodes, drug and alcohol use, medical conditions and family history. It is important to assess the risk of suicide or self harm.

Family members or close friends, with permission, may be asked to provide feedback on the person’s symptoms. The individual may be asked to complete a psychological self-assessment or questionnaire. They may also be asked by their doctor to keep a daily record of moods, sleep patterns, or other activities that may help with a diagnosis.

The doctor will also screen for other factors that may be causing the symptoms. Certain medical conditions, drug and alcohol use and chronic illness can mimic depression. The doctor will also do a physical examination and may do investigations like blood tests to exclude physical causes.

Once all the information has been compiled, a diagnosis can be made. The diagnosis is made according to recognised criteria such as the DSM 5. Diagnosing the type of depression is important as it may influence which treatment is the most effective.

Not sure what to do next?

If you or someone you know are finding it difficult to manage mental health issues, try healthdirect’s symptom checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).


Mayo Clinic (Depression – Tests and diagnosis), DSM (Diagnostic Criteria for Major Depressive disorder and depressive episodes,)

Last reviewed: June 2015

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