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How do psychologists diagnose depression? (Counselling Articles)

Many of my clients that seek counselling to help them cope with depression are encouraged when they are able to label what it means to have a Major Depressive Episode.

Being able to label a Major Depressive Episode is helpful because the person can clarify some of the confusion between feeling low or gloomy and having an episode of Major Depressive Disorder. The person can then say, “Oh, I really do have a problem… I’m not lazy… and it won’t work to just  push myself harder.”

A diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder is made by a psychologist only after assessing the duration of the problem, the severity of the mood disturbance, and other associated symptoms the person is experiencing.

The following text, written in italics, is taken directly from the DSM-IV-TR, one of the diagnostic manuals used by mental health professionals. Only a portion of the text printed in the DSM-IV-TR is presented in this blog.

A Major Depressive Episode can be diagnosed when five (or more) of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2-week period and represent a change from previous functioning; at least one of the symptoms is either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.

1. depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day

2. markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day

3. significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day

4. insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day

5. psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day

6. fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day

7. feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day

8. diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day

9. recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide

Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

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