Monday, November 4, 2019

Why you shouldn't trust too much in depression inventories


Depression inventories, the quizzes that 'rate' depression and give you a score, are all over the Internet. If you've been a bit scared to take one, or have had a result that frightens you, please read on.

First off, there are dozens of inventories, some of which you can take free of charge and others that you have to pay for.

One of the most famous free ones is the Patient Health Questionnaire – Nine Item (PHQ-9) It looks at the classic nine symptoms of depression (sleep issues, low mood etc) One of the most famous ones you have to pay for is Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI) that questions 21 issues associated with depression (sense of failure, self-dissatisfaction, guilt etc).

Is longer and expensive better than simple and cheap? Well, not necessarily.


Both the PHQ9 and BDI are recognized as awesome tools as have dozens of others inventories.

So if one works as well as the other, why do we have so many?  

Some of the reasons include:
·         There are different theories about how depression works, and
·         Depression doesn't come in one shape or form, it affects people differently, and
·         Because scientists like to make up their own stuff so they become famous (and maybe have people pay them money for their discoveries and inventories)

Are all depression inventories totally awesome and foolproof? No, absolutely not.

For one thing, inventories tend to lack context.  For example, you may have had two weeks where you've cried your eyes out every day, have no appetite, no energy, are lower than earthworms in your mood and can't concentrate on a thing.

An inventory might say BIG DEPRESSION SCORE! And hit the panic button. But what if someone close to you just passed away 15 days before?  In that case your symptoms would be grief, not depression.

Also, as the inventories typically rely on self-reporting there are problems with accuracy. For one thing, your idea of low mood may be different than mine. Also, it relies on your memory being accurate. If you're like me and you've no idea what you were feeling last week Wednesday, reporting properly can be tricky.

There are also lots of other issues to consider but as we're not writing a book here, these are some of the main points.

So why do we take depression inventories? Because they're an awesome basis for conversation.

When you talk to your doctor or mental health professional, an inventory is just part of the assessment.

You'll be asked all kinds of other questions like when you last had a medical checkup, whether you're on any medications, what kind of major life events you've experienced in the last year – and much more.(you can read more about that here)

A pro needs to figure out if you are depressed, and if so, what is the likely cause. Then they need to figure out the best path to get you back to happy. In short, it's not a whap-wham-fill-out-the-quiz-and-whoopie-doo-we-know-where-you're-at-and-how-to-fix-you situation.

So, if you think you are depressed, do take one of those online quizzes but don't worry too much about the score. Treat it as a basis for a good think.

And if you suspect you are depressed, go and see your family doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist or mental health professional to have the proper conversation.

TIP: if you're talking to someone who asks you a handful of questions and then hands you a conclusion, RUN! Depression assessment is not to be taken lightly. And while I hate to say it, there are cons, quacks and greedy buggers with no principles who prey on frightened people.  You can read up on how to avoid those here

If in doubt, go to a public hospital. It's not foolproof but it's the best bet that you get someone with the right training.

Contact me if you've questions, and I'll do my best to answer.

Photo Credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay