If you’ve been scouring the internet searching for “signs of depression” or “online depression test,” you’re probably looking for a hard and fast answer as to whether or not you are experiencing depression. Do these depression tests really work? Are they accurate ways to diagnose depression? The quick answer is no, but they do have some use depending on your situation – which we’ll get to in just a bit.
Before we dive into what the benefits of an online depression test may be, it’s important to know its limitations and understand the huge margin of error these tests have. A self-administered depression test is something that some therapists may actually use in their own practice. However, there is a big difference between taking a self-administered test you found on the internet and having a licensed therapist provide you a test that he or she can then go over with you after completing.
Diagnosing depression takes years of training
Oftentimes, many therapists are hesitant to give their patients an official diagnosis. Once you have been diagnosed with a specific mental illness like depression it can color the entire method of your therapy treatments. Certain diagnoses even come with recommendations for seeking medication. If a therapist is going to recommend that you see a psychiatrist and perhaps get some medication to change your physiological make-up, that diagnosis starts to take on a serious risk because of the impending side-effects that medication may bring on.
Therapists are taught to evaluate a client in a slow, calculated manner. While some cases are easy to diagnosis quickly, the majority take several sessions to accurately pinpoint. The nature of an online test is that it is quick. Since the internet is full of distractions, these online tests are usually made to be as short as possible so they don’t lose your attention. Since these tests are often competing with social media and funny cat videos for your attention, they almost fall under the umbrella of entertainment more so than clinical use.
In fact, there are even disclaimers on some of these online depression tests that suggest the test is offered purely for entertainment purposes and any real questions about mental health should be directed to a licensed therapist.
Online depression tests do not take into account your history
While an online depression test may ask questions about your family history, it can never take into account the subtleties of an oral history that a therapist will collect during a session. Usually online depression tests focus on the way you are feeling at that exact moment. While asking questions about your current state is important in understanding depression, as a person you have an entire history that needs to be taken into consideration.
How many brothers and sisters do you have, if any? What was your family life like growing up? What kind of expectations do you have of yourself? What’s your work or school life like? All of these questions are keys to the puzzle that make up who you are and sometimes you repress parts of yourself that you’d rather not deal with and it’s a therapist’s job to pull those parts out of you so you can confront the issues you may be avoiding – which is something an online depression test simply can’t do.
Understanding if there are secondary syndromes
There are many different kinds of depression. Depression is sometimes an umbrella term that needs further explaining. If you have depression it may be coupled with what’s called a secondary syndrom like substance abuse. Additionally, what may present itself as depression in an online depression test may be something else entirely. It can very well be possible that someone has Borderline Personality Disorder as their primary diagnosis and depression is just a symptom of that primary disorder.
Why is this an important distinction? The way to treat depression when there’s substance abuse is often radically different than the way to treat Borderline Personality Disorder. Remember that a diagnosis is only useful if it helps explain how to treat or manage the disorder. If you take an online depression test and find out that you may in fact be depressed it still doesn’t help you understand the ways to work with that depression because it’s still lacking too much information to be a useful diagnosis.
If you are depressed, a self-administered test may be inaccurate
One thing to consider when taking an online depression test is that your mood may exacerbate certain feelings you have and you may exaggerate how you are feeling as you take the test. If you are in a particularly negative state of mind when you fill out an online depression test, your results come back much worse than you thought which can increase your anxiety and stress unnecessarily.
In other words, if your depression is coupled with anxiety and you are taking a depression/anxiety test online you may actually become anxious about the test results which is just making your problem worse. This is yet another reason why it’s important to have a calm, calculated, and educated therapist who can offer an official diagnosis instead of assigning one to yourself.
Therapists can explain away any kind of negative stigma you may attach to a diagnosis
One thing a therapist may do that an online test will not do is explain the seriousness of your diagnosis in relation to the general population. While you may find that you do suffer from depression, a therapist will be able to explain if it’s something most likely temporary (like postpartum depression) or if it’s something that is most-likely part of your natural mental/physiological make-up. If it is something that you’ve suffered from since birth a therapist can also explain how common your form of depression is which can often alleviate anxiety surrounding a diagnosis.
What are the benefits of an online depression test?
Even with all the above listed reasons to not use a depression test there still is some value in taking one for certain people. If you, for example, have never been to a therapist and do not know much about mental health in general, an online depression test may be a way for you to start exploring your own mental health. The first step towards leading a healthier life is to start taking your mental health seriously. Looking for an online depression test could be a sign that you realize something may be wrong and you might need help.
There are also questions on depression tests that may alert you that things are more dire than you thought. Questions about isolation, sex drive, or interaction with your loved ones may make you evaluate just how serious your issues are and hopefully encourage you to seeking help from a professional.
As long as you are using an online depression test to gather a little bit more information about yourself and not trying to give yourself an actual diagnosis, it can be a useful tool. Of course, the best way to use a self-administered depression test though is to go over it with a licensed therapist. By doing so, you can go over any kind of concerns that arise while taking the test with someone who will know how to help you through them.