Depression diagnosis: how do doctors diagnose depression?

Understanding how depression diagnosis works, and how you can go about getting a diagnosis for this mental health condition.

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This page was medically reviewed by Dr Si Win (MBChB, MRCPysch), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woking, in December 2021.

What is a depression diagnosis?

It can be hard to open up about how you’re feeling. But if you’re experiencing the symptoms of depression, getting a diagnosis from a medical or mental health professional is the first step on your road to recovery.

A depression diagnosis involves a qualified medical professional, whether that’s your GP or a psychiatrist, assessing your symptoms and any other relevant information, and using this to identify depression.

Depression is an illness – admitting you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re weak, and if you don’t get help, it could get worse. Depression is common and you’re not alone. It’s also very treatable, so it’s important that you reach out for help as soon as possible.

How to get a depression diagnosis

If you think you may be showing some of the signs of depression, making an appointment with your GP is a good place to start. They’ll be able to assess your symptoms and either diagnose your depression, or refer you to a mental health specialist for a further review.

Alternatively, you could contact a private provider, such as Priory, directly. Our team will be able to signpost you to the most appropriate specialist for your needs and arrange an initial assessment, where you’ll be able to receive a diagnosis.

Take our free depression test

If you need help assessing yourself, our free assessment tool could help.

How is depression diagnosed?

As and when you reach out to a professional, they’ll be able to talk to you about how you feel, and explore whether you’ve had any of the symptoms of depression such as:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Becoming uninterested in hobbies or activities that you used to enjoy

If you’ve had either of these symptoms most days, for most of the time, for at least 2 weeks, this could mean that you have depression. Other symptoms include:

  • Feeling hopeless and as though you can’t look forward to the future
  • Low motivation
  • Memory problems and poor concentration
  • Anger, frustration and irritability
  • Physical problems like disturbed appetite, a change in your sleeping patterns and reduced sex drive
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts

They’ll also explore whether you’ve been struggling with any unexplained physical problems such as back pain, headaches and digestive problems, as these can also be signs of depression.

If you go to see your GP, they’ll be able to review your symptoms, including when they started and how long you’ve had them, and if necessary, conduct a physical health examination to rule out any other causes for your symptoms.

It’s likely that they'll conduct an initial screening for depression. They will probably use a depression screening tool such as the PHQ-9 which explores how your mood has been over the past 2 weeks. They may also ask you questions about your lifestyle as well as exploring whether you have a family history of depression or any other mental health conditions. They may then refer you for further treatment if needed, with someone who is specialised in the field of mental health, for example, a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.

If you reach out for treatment with a mental health provider such as Priory, our psychiatrists will be able to conduct an in-depth screening for depression and we’ll take a thorough mental health history. We’ll also be able to diagnose the type of depression you may be struggling with. Based on this, we’ll be able to develop a treatment plan for you.

How to help a doctor make a diagnosis 

depression diagnosis infographicBefore your appointment with your GP or mental health specialist, it’s a good idea to come prepared with some information that could help them in their diagnosis. Have a think about the following; you may wish to write your answers down:

  • What symptoms have you noticed? When did they start?
  • Have you noticed that you’ve been showing any unusual behaviours lately?
  • Do you have a history of depression or any other mental health concerns?
  • Does anyone in your family struggle with depression, or have struggled with it in the past?
  • What medications are you currently on?
  • What is your lifestyle like (diet, exercise, smoking, drinking)?
  • How has your sleep been lately?
  • Are you going through anything stressful at the moment? What are the main causes of stress in your life?

What happens when you get diagnosed with depression?

Being diagnosed with depression may be overwhelming, but it means you can start your journey towards getting your life back on track.

Once you’ve been diagnosed, you’ll be able to start depression treatment. This will help you to get your symptoms under control, explore any underlying causes or triggers for your feelings, and take steps towards overcoming your depressive illness.

Inpatient treatment

This is when you come into hospital to receive intensive, round-the-clock support for your depression. This type of treatment is important if your depression is severe and your symptoms are having a profoundly negative impact on your quality of life. Residential mental health treatment is also necessary if you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or feel as though you’re struggling to keep yourself safe. People who struggle with clinical depression in particular may need inpatient treatment.

Day care treatment

Day care for depression is less intensive than inpatient treatment because you don’t stay in hospital overnight. Instead, you’ll attend one of our hospitals or centres for a set number of full or half days each week, to receive comprehensive therapy for your depression.

Outpatient treatment

Outpatient depression treatment is suitable if your symptoms aren’t so severe that they’re preventing your ability to function, but you need still some ongoing support for your depression. During outpatient therapy, you’ll attend one of our hospitals or centres to receive weekly therapy for your depression.

Online therapy

Online therapy is similar to outpatient therapy, in that you’ll receive weekly therapy sessions for your depression. However, instead of this being done face-to-face, your therapy will be delivered online via our dedicated platform. This means you can benefit from expert depression support from the comfort of your own home.


We can also prescribe antidepressant medication to treat your depression if this is appropriate for you and your condition. This can be really effective, especially when it’s used alongside therapy. The most common type of antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which interact with the neurotransmitter, serotonin, to improve your mood.

Depression treatment at Priory

The thought of reaching out for help and receiving a depression diagnosis may seem daunting. However, once this condition has been diagnosed, you’ll be able to start treatment for depression which can help you to regain control of your life. Ultimately, a depression diagnosis is the first step along your path to recovery - and you can embark on that journey with Priory.

You don’t have to struggle with depression; expert, established treatment is available.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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