Understanding Depression Screenings
What is depression screening?
A depression screening, also called a depression test, helps find out if you may have depression. Depression is a common, though serious, illness. Everyone feels sad at times, but depression is different from normal sadness or grief.
Depression can affect how you think, feel, and behave. Depression makes it hard to function at home and work. You may lose interest in activities you once enjoyed. Some people with depression feel worthless and are at risk of harming themselves.
There are different types of depression. The most common types are:
- Major depression, which causes persistent feelings of sadness, anger, and/or frustration. Major depression lasts for several weeks or longer.
- Persistent depressive disorder, which causes depressive symptoms that last two years or more.
- Postpartum depression. Many people who have just given birth feel sad, but postpartum depression causes extreme sadness and anxiety after childbirth. It can make it hard for people to care for themselves and/or their babies.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This form of depression usually happens in winter when there is less sunlight. Most people with SAD feel better in the spring and summer.
- Psychotic depression occurs with psychosis, a more serious psychiatric disorder. Psychosis can cause people to lose touch with reality.
- Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depression). People with bipolar disorder have alternating episodes of mania (extreme highs or euphoria) and depression.
What is it used for?
A depression screening is used to help diagnose depression. Your primary care provider or member of your Care Team may give you a depression test if you are showing signs of depression. If the screening shows you have depression, you may need treatment from a mental health provider.
A mental health provider is a health care professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health problems. If you are already seeing a mental health provider, you may get a depression test to help guide your treatment.
Why do I need depression screening?
You may need depression screening if you are showing signs of depression. Signs of depression include:
- Loss of interest or pleasure in daily living and/or other activities, such as hobbies, sports, or sex
- Anger, frustration, or irritability
- Sleep problems: trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Losing or gaining a lot of weight
One of the most serious signs of depression is thinking about or attempting suicide. If you are thinking about hurting yourself, or about suicide, seek help right away. There are many ways to get help. You can:
- Call 911 or go to your local emergency room
- Call your mental health provider or other health care provider
- Reach out to a loved one or close friend
- Call a suicide hotline. In the United States, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
What happens during depression screening?
Your primary care provider may give you a physical exam and ask you about your feelings, mood, sleep habits, and other symptoms. Your provider may also order a blood test to find out if any physical conditions may be causing or contributing to your depression.
During a blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
If you are being tested by a mental health provider, he or she may ask you more detailed questions about your feelings and behaviors. You may also be asked to fill out a questionnaire about these issues.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for depression screening?
You usually don’t need any special preparations for a depression test.
Are there any risks to screening?
There is no risk to having a physical exam or taking a questionnaire.
There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
What do the results mean?
If you are diagnosed with depression, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible. The sooner you get treatment, the better chance you have of recovery. Treatment for depression may take a long time, but most people who get treated eventually feel better.
If your primary care provider diagnosed you, they may refer you to a mental health provider. If a mental health provider diagnosed you, they will recommend a treatment plan based on the type of depression you have and how serious it is.
Is there anything else I need to know about depression screening?
There are many types of mental health providers who treat depression. The most common types of mental health providers include:
- Psychiatrist, a medical doctor who specializes in mental health. Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental health disorders. They can also prescribe medicine.
- Psychologist, a professional trained in psychology. Psychologists generally have doctoral degrees, such as a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or a Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology). But they do not have medical degrees. Psychologists diagnose and treat mental health disorders. They offer one-on-one counseling and/or group therapy sessions. They can’t prescribe medicine unless they have a special license. Some psychologists work with providers who are able to prescribe medicine.
- Licensed clinical social workers (L.C.S.W.s) have a master’s degree in social work with training in mental health. Some have additional degrees and training. L.C.S.W.s diagnose and provide counseling for a variety of mental health problems. They can’t prescribe medicine but can work with providers who are able to.
- Licensed professional counselor. (L.P.C.). Most L.P.C.s have a master’s degree. But training requirements vary by state. L.P.C.s diagnose and provide counseling for a variety of mental health problems. They can’t prescribe medicine but can work with providers who are able to.
L.C.S.W.s and L.P.C.s may be known by other names, including therapist, clinician, or counselor.
If you don’t know which type of mental health provider you should see, talk to your Care Team or primary care provider.
Source: MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine