Diagnosis & Tests

If you have some of the symptoms of depression, you may be suffering from the condition and should seek treatment. Contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Even if your depression isn’t severe, your provider can assess your situation and make sure that you receive the care that you need.

When you see your healthcare provider, you will be asked questions about your mood. Your provider will probably also use screening tests and questionnaires that are helpful in diagnosing depression. Although you may feel uncomfortable talking about your feelings, it is extremely important that you do so.

It’s a good idea to bring a family member or caregiver who knows your normal moods and can report changes when you visit your healthcare provider. This person may be able to provide additional helpful information, such as recent mood changes or whether depression runs in your family.

Other problems can cause symptoms similar to those of depression. Your healthcare provider can determine whether you are depressed or have these symptoms as a result of other health problems, such as:

  • Stroke. Depression is more difficult to diagnose after a stroke. It usually appears 2–3 weeks after a stroke, and frequently interferes with rehabilitation. The effectiveness of rehabilitation often improves with use of antidepressant medications after stroke, even when the patient does not have many symptoms of depression.
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Chronic kidney disease (especially for patients on dialysis)
  • Cancer
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Thyroid problems
  • Chemical imbalances (for example, low potassium levels)
  • Nutritional deficiencies (such as low vitamin B12 levels)
  • Infection
  • Other mental disorders (such as dementia or delirium)

Depression at end of life is under-recognized and under-treated. It must be distinguished from other issues that come up at the end of life.  These include responses to bad news or anticipatory grief (grief before death). Depression and psychological distress lessen a person’s quality of life, amplify pain and other symptoms, and interfere with their ability to deal with the emotions involved in saying good-bye. Treatment of depression is appropriate for patients who are receiving palliative care.


Last Updated September 2020