Depression | Testing and Diagnosis

How is depression diagnosed?

The first step in treating your child is forming an accurate and complete diagnosis. If you suspect your child is depressed, a mental health clinician (who may be a child/adolescent psychiatrist, child psychologist or social worker, who specializes in child and adolescent mental health) will ask you and your child to come in for a visit. The clinician will ask about your child’s:

  • symptoms
  • social history
  • medical history
  • academic history
  • family history

It can sometimes be hard to distinguish between sadness and grief and major depression. In order to correctly diagnose your child with depression, doctors use a standardized set of two types of symptoms that must be present.

Core symptoms

  • persistent sadness
  • persistent loss of interest in almost all activities

Associated symptoms

  • loss of energy
  • loss of appetite (or increase)
  • changes in sleeping patterns
  • agitation or irritability
  • feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • indecisiveness
  • wanting to die

Depression is when one or both of the core symptoms persist for at least two weeks along with five of the associated symptoms. If the symptoms are due to substance abuse, a medical illness or grief over a recent loss, they are usually not signs of depression.

When children have some symptoms, but not enough to indicate depression, they may have dysthemia.