Depression Questionnaires
November 27, 2002 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Are Online Depression Quizzes Depressingly Useless? Or is there something to them? There are certainly a lot of them about, posted by respectable institutions. And they don't seem far removed or less complete than the set of questions doctors will ask you to help them decide whether you're depressed or not. In other words, if I were to take all four quizzes and divided my results by four or something, would I be any wiser? Is the fact that they're very private an advantage? So many questions! [First link, for which I assume you don't need to have had a baby this month in order to answer, via Bifurcated Rivets.]
posted by MiguelCardoso (18 comments total)
From the NYU site:

1. Do you feel sad, blue, unhappy or "down in the dumps"?

A. Never
B. Rarely
C. Sometimes
D. Very Often
E. Most of the time

I pretty sure that if you answer d, or e, the quiz tells you to see a doctor. Very helpful.
posted by stvc15 at 12:03 PM on November 27, 2002

Oh, hello there! Would you like to take a free personality questionnaire?

OK, sorry.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 12:06 PM on November 27, 2002

i just don't give a damn anymore. [sigh]
posted by quonsar at 12:15 PM on November 27, 2002

For me, depression is my normal mental state, especially within the confines of an office cubicle. It's only a problem if you think of it as a problem. I've learned to bathe in the dark sea of depression and find it a great temple of tranquility and reflection.
posted by disgruntled at 12:29 PM on November 27, 2002

I think most of these quizzes are useless because they are too vague and ask the test taker to quantify vague feelings such as "sadness." A more helpful alternative might be a scenario based test, in which the test taker is presented with a series of social scenarios and asked to interpret them or to choose how he/she would respond to them. I think this would be a more accurate indicator of clinical depression (as opposed to a more temporary mood swing) as it would reveal a generalized attitude of hopelessness, paranoia, apathy, etc.
posted by mariko at 12:46 PM on November 27, 2002

Online depression quizzes are only supposed to be a vague indicator. If they tip to positive in any way, you're advised to see a doctor. That's the idea: to get people help.

It's ridiculous to think an online quiz could fully diagnose anything. But it may be the push that someone needs to get treatment.
posted by frykitty at 1:09 PM on November 27, 2002

Actually, some of them are not vague at all, but very much based upon empirical research which shows they act as accurate screens to distinguish those who may be suffering from clinical depression from those who are not. I think in that way, they can be very useful... Helping a person decide whether or not to seek out additional professional help and diagnosis.

These online quizzes anywhere are not meant to be diagnoses, or the end-all, be-all of determining someone's mood or mental state. They are simply meant to help a person learn more about themselves, and perhaps, if they want, do something more with that information.
posted by docjohn at 1:20 PM on November 27, 2002

Miguel, why on earth would you say these are "useless"?

These quizzes are exactly like the "depression inventory" which might be administered by a physician. (Well, most are shorter.) The purpose is to give a quick, five-minute peg of the patient's mental state. In therapy, one may take these at every clinical visit, weekly, or even daily. They are not a replacement for treatment by any means; they're merely a tool, and since they are easy for the patient to take himself, they are handy for self-assessment. They're also used for the pre-screening events, such as the annual depression awareness day, when you might be able to take one at a mall or pharmacy and ask questions of a (for example) med student about how to find treatment.

They're useful in part because many patients, either culturally or as a symptom of their illness, are in denial or do not understand subtler symptomology. Depression isn't just feeling suicidal, or generally sad; it's being incapable of following through on work or social plans, quitting hobbies, sleeping all day, mourning a loss for an excessive period. The quizzes provide a way of quantifying a person, between normal fluctuations at one end, mild to moderate depression that may pass of its own accord, and severe clinical depression including suicidal and dangerous states. Thinking about the questions separately removes them from the person's individual circumstances and focuses on outward signs rather than internal, abstract emotional logic. Ideally, even four very different quizzes should be able to give you a similar general score. Also, your answers to particular questions can be useful indicators of other disorders for a therapist to pursue. In short, these are the blood-pressure test of psychology.

For years, literally, I would score myself regularly using the Beck Depression Inventory. Somewhere, I have a spreadsheet showing various scores plotted on a graph. When I got a high score, I would step up my cognitive self-therapy.
posted by dhartung at 1:44 PM on November 27, 2002

I've learned to bathe in the dark sea of depression and find it a great temple of tranquility and reflection.
disgruntled, pardon me, but if you say that, then i say you haven't got the tiniest inkling of what it really is to be depressed. temple of tranquility and reflection? shit. try more like a decrepit ghetto of bitter self-loathing and despair.
posted by quonsar at 2:39 PM on November 27, 2002

I think the quizzes are helpful. Back in the day, I had never even heard of post partum depression. No Dr. ever asked how I felt. The baby blues didn't go away, it got worse. Depression is hell. Maybe if the internet and online quizzes were around, I might have understood what was wrong with me and gotten help before I had landed in that gutter of despair.
posted by redhead at 2:59 PM on November 27, 2002

What dhartung, redhead and quonsar said. Depression is the scariest and worst thing I've ever encountered...constant searing and intolerable pain, but of the mental variety rather than physical.

The inventories and associated things (like National Depression Screening Day) are very useful as well. Until I went to my college's screening for NDSD, I didn't know much about depression. I didn't know that it arises from brain chemistry and genetics. I didn't know why I felt so crummy all the time. I honestly thought that I was crazy, and it was unbelievably frightening.

Words cannot describe the relief I felt when I was told that this is a defined illness with decent treatment available, and that I wasn't alone in this. I doubt I would have gotten help if it hadn't been really easy and quick to take the initial screening, which then pushed me toward the counseling center.

It's still a struggle sometimes, but at least the problem is being addressed...I shudder to think what might have happened otherwise.
posted by Vidiot at 3:47 PM on November 27, 2002

Miguel, why on earth would you say these are "useless"?

Dan, I was genuinely asking whether they were or not, from a standpoint of ignorance. I figured: if they were useless, why would responsible institutions put them up? But I was kinda hoping some of you would enlighten me - and you have, in part. Thanks!

I suffered depression for three solid years after my father died. Turned out to have nothing to do with my father's death (they said). Still, it would have been nice, to say the least, that something like these tests could have edged me in the direction of a psychiatrist (though it was a pair of neurologists who ended up helping me pull through).
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:02 PM on November 27, 2002

i have found these things helpful.
i was of the mind that i had nothing more than extreme self
pity and i was being such a complete liar trying to get a doctors help.....until i read what the symptoms etc of depression were on the net ..then i felt less shamed about
getting treatment ....ahh page 164 ......i also have another illness which cannot be treated by proffesionals , so i had a four year mistrust of professionals......then a two year refusal to acknowledge depression and get outside help....anyway things are much better now as i trudge the road of happy destiny etc
posted by sgt.serenity at 8:42 PM on November 27, 2002


For years, literally, I would score myself regularly using the Beck Depression Inventory. Somewhere, I have a spreadsheet showing various scores plotted on a graph. When I got a high score, I would step up my cognitive self-therapy.

Now that sounds very depressing. Think what else could have been done with that time. Even time spent with Playstation2 would have been better than the Beck Inventory and spreadsheets.

fortunately, a friend reminded me that the weirdest and most fucked up people I know would have answered the NYU question:

1. Do you feel sad, blue, unhappy or "down in the dumps"?

A. Never
B. Rarely
C. Sometimes
D. Very Often
E. Most of the time

with an A.
posted by stvc15 at 8:54 PM on November 27, 2002

stvc15: If it's all the same to you, I think that knowing PivotTables, rather than the twitch skills of Zelda, may have served me better. And yes: I consider a spreadsheet a place I can, on occasion, play.
posted by dhartung at 10:38 PM on November 27, 2002

I remember my first bout of depression and not having a clue what it was - it's something that happens to other people. I also remember taking one of these tests around the time and thinking shit they recon I really depressed - it was the start of me seeking help.

Now, as an 'experienced' sufferer of depression, I would find these tests fairly useless as I can see right through them, but as was posted above, they're an important tool for those who maybe don't understand what's happening to them.
posted by qwerty155 at 2:55 AM on November 28, 2002

It's all very well and good having online tests, but most people who are depressed do 'know' it, especially nowadays. Vague questions like those used in those tests are far too ambiguous to serve any purpose.

I've had long spells of mild depression, normally after a personal problem has been sorted out and I'm feeling like I should be happy. That's the hardest thing..being unable to explain to loved ones why I cry every day and that it's nothing they've done.

Is it better with mild depression not to run to the Doctor? Mine recommended St. John's Wort to me a couple of years ago, due to lack of side-effects et al. It worked for about 1 out of 6 months of taking it. So now I don't go back because that had limited use and I don't like the thought of taking anything stronger.

As well, I get a lot worse this time of year. When you don't see daylight for 5 months, it has bad implications. But you try to struggle on and ride the occasional wave of happiness for as long as possible. But when work's bad and the back left of my neck starts to swell again, and the odd localised headache is tearing my skull in two, it's hard.

The best treatment I've found to alleviate the symptons : a fucking long hard scream. Let it out, boys and girls...
posted by boneybaloney at 10:45 AM on November 28, 2002

I never thought it was depression, my wife did. I just thought I am experiencing my life instead of being functionalized in it to her or anyone else's satisfaction.
posted by semmi at 12:15 AM on November 29, 2002

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