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Are You Depressed? Start With the PHQ-9 Questionnaire

It’s an excellent first-step screen, but not a diagnosis.

Pixabay, public domain
Source: Pixabay, public domain

Close to 20% of people will have at least one episode of depression in their lifetime, but less than half of them will receive treatment for it. One reason for this: many people wonder if they are depressed, but aren’t sure.

How can people get to a questionnaire that will quickly give them an answer specific to themselves? Go to Google, and they will direct you to it.

What is the PHQ-9?

The PHQ-9 is a well-validated set of 9 questions that screen for the presence of depression. It is used by clinicians to quantify a person’s response to treatment. Major university clinical and research psychiatric centers use it, as do clinicians in the community. It’s a very good tool, and can be used with confidence.

Although the PHQ-9 has been available online to the public for years, many people have been unaware of it. That is ending. When people search for depression or words related to it, Google (mobile devices) now provides a prompt with a link that takes you straight to the PHQ-9, as well as to information about depression and support provided by NAMI - the National Alliance on Mental Illness. (NAMI is an excellent organization providing, for free, the highest quality information, guidance and support for people with mental illness and their families.)

The questionnaire is simple to take and score. It consists of questions related to the symptoms of depression, with multiple choice descriptors of how frequent and severe each symptom is for you. The final score suggests both the presence and severity of depression.

One concern that people may have when they take an online screen is about privacy. Google has said that the results from the PHQ-9 will not be recorded or shared.

The PHQ-9 is a screen, not a medical diagnosis

Of importance: the PHQ-9 is effective as a screening tool, but it does not replace seeing a medical professional for diagnosis and recommendations for treatment. What it does is indicate that you should see your doctor. Bringing your results to your doctor is a good way for both of you to take advantage of ‘evidence-based medicine’. That way, you can retake it and share it with your doctor so you can follow together the effectiveness of your treatment.

Many people who are sure they have depression delay - sometimes for years - getting treatment. Another benefit of taking the test: seeing a numerical score indicating depression may help spur a person on to take action and finally see a professional for treatment.

The PHQ-9 for everyone?

It has been recommended that everyone in any medical setting should be screened for depression, especially adolescents and young adults since those are the peak ages of onset. This has been strongly endorsed by a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. When anyone in your family has a doctor visit for any reason, having them take and bring along their PHQ-9 results could help make that a reality.