9 Criteria Professionals Use to Diagnose Major Depressive Disorder
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It’s important to recognize that depression is a mental health disorder that requires a professional diagnosis and treatment. 


Major depressive disorder goes beyond feeling sad after losing out on a promotion or having plans canceled. It’s a mood disorder that can impact every facet of your life, interfering with daily responsibilities, relationships and future planning. By learning about what criteria professionals use to diagnose major depressive disorder, you can recognize that your symptoms are those of a recognized mental health condition. This recognition may make it more likely that you’ll seek help for your depression.

We’ll talk about the criteria required for major depressive disorder and how to know it’s time to seek professional help for your depression. Then we’ll discuss what to do after being diagnosed.


9 criteria for major depressive disorder


There are certain criteria that a person must meet to be diagnosed with MDD. These criteria are determined by the American Psychiatric Association and outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).


You can be diagnosed with depression by a primary care physician, psychiatrist or psychologist. 


Here are the nine criteria that these professionals use to make a major depressive disorder diagnosis. 


  1. Depressed mood recognizable by oneself or others
  2. Notably reduced pleasure or interest in most, or all, activities
  3. Significant change in weight or diet
  4. Sleeping too much (hypersomnia) or too little (insomnia) every day
  5. Psychomotor retardation or agitation that’s recognized by others
  6. Daily loss of energy or fatigue
  7. Feeling overwhelming guilt or worthlessness 
  8. Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  9. Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or suicide attempt


A diagnosis requires that you display at least five of the following symptoms in the same two-week period that differs from their regular functions. Also, one of the five symptoms you display must be either a depressed mood or lack of interest. Your symptoms must also be causing you clinically significant distress or impair your ability to function in social situations, at work or in other areas of your life.


How to know when you should talk to a professional about your depression


Major depressive disorder is often referred to simply as depression. It’s one of the most common mental health disorders that affects approximately 8.3% of U.S. adults. That adds up to an estimated 21 million people. 


There’s no hard-and-fast rule for when you can see a professional about a potential depression diagnosis. Anyone who is struggling to manage their mental health should find the support and resources they need. But many people decide to talk to a professional if they’re exhibiting symptoms of major depressive disorder, including:


  • Pervasive feelings of sadness and malaise
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in activities
  • Heightened irritability
  • Pessimism 


What to do if you meet the criteria for major depressive disorder


If you’ve been diagnosed with major depressive disorder because you meet the criteria, you’ve taken an important step in your mental health journey. So the next step is to learn how to manage your depression so that it has less of a negative effect on your everyday life.


Psychotherapy is often one of the first courses of action following a major depressive disorder diagnosis. By talking to a licensed clinical therapist, you can get to the root cause of your depression and learn skills, such as coping mechanisms and emotional regulation, that can help you manage your symptoms in the future. 


Medication is another common treatment option for MDD. If you were diagnosed with MDD by a physician or psychologist, they may refer you to a psychiatrist if they believe that antidepressants can improve your ability to manage your symptoms on a daily basis.


These treatment options and others are often included as parts of a chain of care that ranges from in-patient treatment programs to outpatient therapy sessions. 


Lightfully Behavioral Health offers support for those struggling with major depressive disorder


You may experience a range of emotions after being diagnosed with MDD. However, understanding that MDD has been causing your symptoms can also be a crucial first step toward finding treatment and support for yourself. At Lightfully Behavior Health, we want to help you receive the support and resources you need to help reduce and manage your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.


The framework of our levels of care consists of evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care provided by experts. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and are struggling to manage your symptoms, you can benefit from levels of care like our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) or Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP). If you require extensive behavioral care, then it’s worth exploring our Residential Treatment Center (RTC) or Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP).


Change is possible. We encourage you to contact us to ask about an MDD assessment so we can start helping you work toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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