Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/14/2022
A depression checklist isn’t like a packing list for your next vacation — you don’t have to check all the boxes, and (unfortunately) leaving a few things off isn’t necessarily going to stop the depressive episode from happening.
Depression checklists are really just a way to help you understand with some degree of accuracy how much depression is part of your life, and how much of your quality of life may be affected by a depressive disorder.
If you’re wondering if you have clinical depression, if your existing depression has returned or if your mild depression is beginning to become more severe, a depression checklist can be a useful exercise as part of a larger treatment plan.
To understand how to use it effectively, let’s start with the obvious question: just what exactly is a depression checklist?
A depression checklist or depression assessment is a way to determine whether you show signs of depression and how severe your symptoms of depression might be.
Depression is a collection of mood disorders that can erode a person’s quality of life; cause feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, reduced pleasure in activities and weight gain (or loss); and can lead to anxiety, insomnia and other problems over time.
Depression can take many forms, and the form of depression you have may be major depression, postpartum depression or one of the many other depression types. Assessing someone’s symptoms and determining whether they’re depressed is a key part of eventually treating depression.
These tests can be used for a variety of benefits beyond the obvious “Am I depressed?” question they answer.
Assessment data can be used to help identify symptoms, can help health care providers determine the best treatment options and can be used to regularly gauge progress and treatment effectiveness throughout someone's depressive disorder.
So, how does a depression checklist work? What does a depression checklist do? What am I going to have to talk about or address in the answers?
These are all fair questions, so let’s look at a few of the most respected tests as examples, starting with the BDI, or Beck Depression Inventory.
The Beck Depression Inventory contains 21 questions in which a patient is asked to self-report their feelings in multiple-choice format to quantify symptoms of a depressed mood.
Essentially, you’re asked to rate statements on a “strongly agree” and “strongly disagree”-type scale. It takes about 10 minutes to complete, and your answers are then used to produce a final score that gives health care providers data.
Another assessment called the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale or CES-D, includes 20 self-report items, which you’re expected to score on a four-point scale. At the end of the test you add up your points and use the final score to better understand your level of depression.
This test takes about 20 minutes, including the scoring process, according to the American Psychological Association.
Other tests similarly ask for multiple-choice responses on between 10 and 50 questions, and usually take less than 30 minutes to complete.
Essentially, regardless of the assessment you’re given for your depression, you can expect to spend less than half an hour answering an average of 20 or so questions in a multiple-choice format.
Those answers will produce differing results depending on the specific test, but generally they’re all meant to deliver the same type of information.
So, just what can you expect to see on these tests?
It’s difficult for us to give you a complete picture as the tests are generally different, but from the tests we were able to access in the public domain, here are a few examples of questions or statements that you may have to react to:
I feel lonely.
I feel hopeful about the future.
My appetite is poor.
I am bothered by things that usually don’t bother me.
I feel fearful.
I feel depressed.
My sleep is restless.
These are just examples — a test may ask you to rate your sleep disturbances, anxious behavior, loss of interest in things you care about and other common signs of depression.
Context is important for these questions, too. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, I’ve felt all of those things at some point in my life” then you need to remember that for a diagnosis of depression, these have to be present every day or nearly every day for two weeks.
You need to feel these ways most of the days for a period of time, which can be several weeks or months, to qualify as a disorder.
In most cases, the checklist for depression or assessment will give you a timeframe for your answers. The CES-D asks you to rate the last week, and that’s fairly common.
So is a depression checklist accurate? Are these assessments actually telling you anything you can trust? Well, it depends.
For the most part, tests like the Beck Depression Inventory and the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale have been tested countless times worldwide and have been found to be accurate and reliable.
That Internet quiz you found as an ad on social media, on the other hand? Not so much.
The difference between one of the proven assessments and a layperson’s internet quiz may be very different, or not very different at all. They may employ the same questions and grading scale.
If they do, great. But what’s the point of not just using the existing, proven tests?
There’s a second element to the consideration of “accuracy,” though, and this is where things get a bit more ambiguous.
Yes, you may look at the Beck Depression Inventory or another test and get results, and those results could show that you are severely depressed.
The problem is that without professional health care support, interpreting that information and determining what to do about it can be really problematic.
Which brings us to the final part of this conversation: getting help.
So you’ve taken the checklist and given it a go, and you have a checklist score. Now what?
Whether you have a positive score or a negative one doesn’t really mean anything without the context of how the test uses that number. And even when you understand what that score means for you, it’s only data — not a solution.
What you do with the checklist next is ultimately up to you, but the reality is that information gleaned from these sorts of exercises is really only valuable to you with the assistance of a mental health professional to interpret the results.
Whether you’ve scored high or low, if you’re concerned with the results or just confused about what they mean — and especially if you’ve confirmed that mental illness may be part of your daily life right now — it’s time to get help from healthcare professionals for whatever mental health conditions you’re dealing with.
If you’re ready to talk to a professional about depression, we can help. Our online therapy options are available to you today remotely, so checklist results can be converted into information for your benefit. This is the way to get depression under control: with help.
Either way, the next thing you should be “checking off” on your own list is finding support. Get help today.