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Using Depression Tests and Other Screening Quizzes

You’ll find a great many depression screening tests and screening tools for a wide variety of mental health (and other) concerns. Heck, I should know — I published the first interactive online depression screening tool in 1995. Unfortunately, sometimes people come away from these tools with the wrong idea — that they tell a person whether or not they have the disorder or problem. That is not the case. Screening tests do not diagnose.

Online screening tools such as these are used to help a person determine whether they should seek out professional assistance for the problem. They are not diagnostic instruments and rarely used to diagnose an individual (and never in a vacuum — e.g., without a full clinical interview with the person).

Why not just use one of these tests to diagnose someone?

The screening tests are designed to test for specific symptoms commonly associated with a specific disorder. But some disorders mimic other disorders, or have symptoms that are very similar. For example, both bipolar disorder and depression have a significantly depressed mood as a major symptom. But a depression screening quiz tests only for depression, not manic symptoms. Such disorders require a differential diagnosis to be made to determine which diagnosis is the correct one. Sometimes a person may have more than one disorder present, and only a careful clinical interview by an experienced mental health professional can tease this out.

Most screening tools online are also oriented toward a specific symptom cluster which may or may not directly correlate with an actual diagnosis. For instance, a depression screening quiz can help a person figure out if they may have depressive symptoms, but it won’t tell anyone what specific disorder those symptoms belong to (such as depression, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, or some other disorder altogether).

Some tools, such as the online mental health screening tools we offer here, also allow an individual to use the tool not just as a screening, but also as a symptom tracker. This kind of tool allows you to track your progress on a specific set of symptoms over time.

Screening tools are an important component of people learning and better understanding their own emotions, but they are only the first step in one’s treatment journey. The results of an online screening quiz should be discussed with one’s mental health professional, if the tool indicates as much.

Using Depression Tests and Other Screening Quizzes

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Using Depression Tests and Other Screening Quizzes. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 5 Feb 2007)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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