Depression FAQs

Depression is a complicated topic, and we want to help answer any questions you might have. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about depression.

Who can diagnose depression? 

While a variety of mental health providers may be involved in treatment for depression, diagnosis is typically done by a primary care provider and confirmed by a psychiatrist or therapist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats mental illnesses, while a therapist is a psychologist or licensed counselor.

The main difference between a psychiatrist and a therapist is that a therapist can’t prescribe medication. He or she can refer you to a psychiatrist if you need medication, but therapists focus on counseling as the main treatment option for mental illnesses.

Be wary of online survey tools, and don’t rely on them alone to diagnose depression or other mental health issues. The best way to receive a reliable and accurate diagnosis is to see a mental health provider.

How do doctors test for depression?

To diagnose depression, a psychiatrist or therapist can give you a mental health evaluation. This evaluation usually involves a conversation about your moods and daily life along with a discussion of your family history. A mental health evaluation can help determine if you have depression, anxiety or another mental health condition.

Is depression a psychiatric diagnosis?

Yes. A psychiatric disorder is a mental illness diagnosed by a mental health professional. This includes depression and other conditions that affect your thinking, moods and/or behavior. These are conditions that should be treated by a mental health professional.

What is a depressive disorder?

A depressive disorder is another term for depression. It’s a mental health disorder characterized by a persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities that affect your daily life.

What are the main causes of depression?

The causes of depression are not fully known. It’s likely caused by a combination of factors such as:

  • genetics (i.e., family history of depression)
  • chemical changes in the brain
  • environmental factors
  • traumatic experiences

Can depression lead to other mental disorders?

Depression can also occur along with certain mental disorders. These include anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and substance use. As a group, these conditions affect millions of Americans annually. But each of these conditions can be treated and allow you to lead a normal and productive life.

It’s also important to note that depression can be caused by other mental disorders, including those listed before.

What is the difference between Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) & depression?

MDD is a serious medical issue in which a person is profoundly impacted by the symptoms of depression. This is a medical problem that rarely if ever resolves without treatment, and it can recur throughout life. A diagnosis of MDD applies when people have at least five symptoms of depression that last for at least two weeks.

A diagnosis of Minor Depression, or just depression, applies when people have at least two symptoms of depression, but fewer than five symptoms. To be diagnosed with depression, those symptoms must persist during a two-week period.

MDD is more persistent and prolonged than depression, and the symptoms tend to affect a person’s life more strongly. But it’s important to seek help no matter how severe your depression is – even if your symptoms are short-lived, we can help you feel better.

What is psychotic depression?

When major depression is accompanied by psychosis, it’s called psychotic depression (PD) or depression with psychosis. PD is a temporary mental state characterized by abnormal perceptions that may include delusions and hallucinations. 

Can a primary care physician diagnose depression?

At Mercy, we recommend that people struggling with depression begin with a medical examination by a primary care physician. They’re often your first step in navigating the mental health system.

Primary care physicians can:

  • Conduct a medical examination that may include lab tests to rule out other medical conditions that may be causing your depression
  • Diagnose depression
  • Prescribe basic antidepressants

Following a medical examination and depending upon the severity of symptoms, your physician may refer you for further evaluation by a mental health professional. 

Diagnosis & Treatment for Depression

If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of depression, Mercy's behavioral health experts are here to help.
Learn about depression diagnosis and treatment options here.