The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all people, starting at age 12, be screened for depression.1, 2 Screening for depression helps find depression early. And early treatment may help you get better faster.
Depression is a disease. It's not caused by personal weakness and is not a character flaw. When you have depression, chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters are out of balance.
Depression causes adults and children to feel sad and hopeless much of the time. It's different from normal feelings of sadness, grief, or low energy. Always tell your doctor if you feel sad or have other symptoms of depression. Many times, people are embarrassed by these feelings and say nothing. Depression can be treated, and the sooner you get treatment, the better your chance for a quick and full recovery. Untreated depression can get worse, cause other health problems, and may last for years or even a lifetime. It can have a serious impact on both you and the people you care about.
To find out if you are depressed, your doctor may do a physical exam and ask you questions about your health and your feelings. Some questions may not seem related to your mood. But your honest answers can help give the doctor clues about how depression may be affecting you. Your doctor may ask you about feelings of sadness, changes in hunger or weight, energy level, concentration, guilt, thoughts of death and suicide, sleep, general interest in everyday activities, and more.
Some diseases can cause symptoms that look like depression. So your doctor may do blood tests to help rule out physical problems, such as a low thyroid level or anemia.
Children and teens
Symptoms of depression in children and teens can be different from adult symptoms.
To find out if your child is depressed, the doctor may do a physical exam and ask your child about his or her health and about how he or she thinks, acts, and feels. The doctor may ask your child about grouchiness, temper tantrums, headaches, stomachaches, social withdrawal, and more. It is common for children with depression to have other problems, such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or an eating disorder. The doctor may ask questions about these problems too.
The doctor may also ask you or a teacher to fill out a form about your child’s symptoms.
Some diseases can cause symptoms that look like depression. So the doctor may do blood tests to help rule out physical problems, such as a low thyroid level or anemia.
For more information, see the topics Depression, Mental Health Assessment, and Depression in Children and Teens.
- Pignone MP, et al. (2002). Screening for depression in adults: A summary of the evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Annals of Internal Medicine, 136(10): 765–776.
- U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (2009). Screening and treatment for major depressive disorder in children and adolescents: U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommendation statement. Pediatrics, 123(4): 1223–1228.
Last Updated: August 28, 2009
Author: Debby Golonka, MPH
Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine