We’ve become accustomed to doctors using specialized blood tests or other extensive laboratory tests to help them make a conclusive diagnosis. However, most laboratory tests are not very helpful when it comes to diagnosing depression. In fact, talking with the patient may be the most important diagnostic tool the doctor has. The recommendation is that doctors routinely screen all individuals for depression. This screening might occur during a visit for a chronic illness, at an annual wellness visit, or during a pregnancy or postpartum visit.
To effectively diagnose and treat depression, the doctor must hear about specific symptoms of depression. A doctor may use a series of standard questions to screen for depression. While aphysical examination will reveal a patient’s overall state of health, by talking with a patient, a doctor can learn about other things that are relevant to making a depression diagnosis. A patient, for example, can report on such things as daily moods, behaviors, and lifestyle habits.
A depression diagnosis is often difficult to make because clinical depression can manifest in so many different ways. For example, some clinically depressed individuals seem to withdraw into a state of apathy. Others may become irritable or even agitated. Eating and sleeping patterns can be exaggerated. Clinical depression may cause a person either to sleep or eat to excess or almost eliminate those activities.
Observable or behavioral symptoms of clinical depression also may sometimes be minimal despite a person experiencing profound inner turmoil. Depression can be an all-encompassing disorder, and it affects a person’s body, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in varying ways.