To diagnose depression, doctors, psychiatrists, and other certified mental health professionals assess a person’s symptoms and compare them to diagnostic guidelines.

Depression, also known as clinical depression or major depressive disorder, affects how a person thinks and feels. It can make it more difficult to get through everyday activities, such as eating, sleeping, school, or work.

Depression can affect anyone, regardless of race, gender, culture, or age. However, evidence suggests that several factors contribute to its development, including environment, genetics, and psychological factors.

When making a diagnosis, a healthcare professional may consider a person’s symptoms and family medical history to determine whether a person meets the diagnostic criteria.

This article reviews how mental health care professionals diagnose depression, the different types of depression, and treatment options for this condition.

Mental health professionals typically use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) to determine whether a person has major depressive disorder.

For a person to receive a depression diagnosis, they must:

  • have at least five symptoms of depression
  • experience the symptoms every day, for most of the day, for at least 2 weeks
  • must have either a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities as one of the symptoms

Criteria are slightly different for children and adolescents. Rather than having a depressed mood, they may present as irritable instead of sad.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • a depressed mood
  • loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities
  • significant changes in weight
  • changes in appetite
  • sleep disturbances
  • low energy and fatigue
  • agitated movements or behaviors, such as fidgeting or rapid talking
  • difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • a delusional, excessive, or inappropriate sense of guilt
  • a sense of worthlessness
  • recurrent thoughts of death, including suicidal thinking or ideation

Learn more about common signs and symptoms of depression here.

Diagnosis also involves ruling out other mental health conditions that may cause similar symptoms, such as:

A healthcare professional will also attempt to evaluate the severity of the depression to help devise a treatment plan.

A 2018 study suggests that loss of interest in activities indicates severe depression.

Depression signs and symptoms based on age

Depression does not affect everyone the same way. As a result, the signs of depression can vary depending on a person’s age.

Young children may:

  • present as cranky or anxious
  • pretend to be sick
  • cling to a parent
  • refuse to go to school
  • worry that a parent may die

Older children may:

  • feel restless
  • get into trouble at school
  • sulk
  • become easily frustrated
  • have low self-esteem
  • experience excessive sleepiness

Young adults may:

  • have other mood disorders, such as generalized anxiety
  • be irritable
  • complain of weight gain
  • have a negative view of life and the future
  • experience excessive sleepiness

Middle-aged adults may have:

  • more depressive episodes
  • decreased libido
  • digestive issues, such as diarrhea
  • insomnia

Older adults may have symptoms that are less obvious. They may:

  • feel a lack of emotions
  • experience sadness or grief
  • have conditions that cause pain and contribute to depression
  • have trouble concentrating

A person should consider talking to a mental health professional if they suspect that they or a loved one may be showing signs of depression.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Click here for more links and local resources.

The two most common forms of depression are:

  • Major depression: Symptoms persist most of the day, every day, for at least 2 weeks and often interfere with daily life.
  • Persistent depressive disorder: This types typically involves milder symptoms that last for 2 years or more.

Learn more about the differences between major depression and persistent depressive disorder here.

Other types of depression include:

Depression is one type of mood disorder. Bipolar disorder is another mood disorder that can cause depressive symptoms. The main types of bipolar disorder include:

  • Bipolar I disorder: This type involves mania symptoms that last for at least 1 week or require hospitalization.
  • Bipolar II disorder: This type involves current or past depressive symptoms and hypomania lasting at least 4 days.
  • Hypomania: A mild manic state lasting at least 4 consecutive days without a marked impact on a person’s social and occupational interactions.
  • Cyclothymia: Mild presentations of major depression and hypomania for at least 2 years as an adult.

Treatment for depression often involves medication and psychotherapy, but the exact treatment will depend on the severity of the depression.

For example, a healthcare professional may recommend only psychotherapy for mild cases.

Treatment can take some time to work. Sometimes, a person may need to try different medications or therapists to find the right fit for their needs.

Changes to a person’s routine, such as a following a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, may also help.

Learn more about natural options that could help prevent a depression relapse.

With treatment and some routinee adjustments, a person may be able to eliminate or manage depression symptoms.

For some people, short-term treatment may be enough. Others may need lifelong care to manage depression.

To receive a depression diagnosis, a person needs to have at least five symptoms of depression that last for 2 or more weeks. One symptom must be a depressed mood or a loss of interest in almost all activities.

People with depression may benefit from psychotherapy, medication, or both. A person may also find that routine adjustments make it easier to manage their symptoms.

It is important to note that finding the right treatment plan for depression can take some time.