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How is Depression Diagnosed?
A diagnosis of major depressive disorder begins with the determination that the patient has a cluster of the symptoms that define the disorder and that the symptoms have been present for at least two weeks. A doctor will begin with a physical exam to rule out biological problems that may be causing symptoms that mimic those of depression; this exam may include lab tests.
If, after these exams, the doctor suspects that major depression is the cause of the symptoms, he or she may recommend a psychological or psychiatric assessment to further solidify the diagnosis.
Diagnostic steps may include:
- A physical exam. This exam will be aimed at ruling out physical conditions that could be causing the symptoms.
- Blood tests. These tests will look at the patient’s blood chemistry for issues such as thyroid function, electrolyte imbalances, anemia, chronic infection, and cancer. Screenings for drugs and alcohol may also be conducted to rule out symptoms that may be caused by substance abuse.
- Psychological assessments. These assessments may take the form of questionnaires or talk sessions with a mental health professional to assess the patient’s mood, mental state, and mental health history. Family members or caregivers may also be asked to participate in these assessments.
The results of the psychological assessments will be compared to the diagnostic criteria for major depression in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Comparison of these criteria will help a psychiatrist to decide whether the symptoms indicate depression, another psychiatric problem, or a coincidence of depression and another condition.
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