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Understanding depression and the diagnostic criterea


Depression is a complex mental health condition that transcends mere feelings of sadness. It is a pervasive and debilitating disorder that affects millions of individuals worldwide. In this blog, we will delve into the diagnostic criteria of depression, shedding light on the key indicators that mental health professionals use to identify and assess this challenging condition.

Understanding Depression:

Depression, clinically referred to as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in daily activities. To be diagnosed with depression, individuals must meet specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The Diagnostic Criteria:

1. Depressed Mood:

The primary and essential criterion for depression is a persistent and pervasive low mood. Individuals may feel sad, empty, or irritable most of the day, nearly every day.

2. Anhedonia:

Anhedonia refers to a diminished interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable or rewarding. Individuals with depression often lose interest in hobbies, socializing, or activities that used to bring joy.

3. Changes in Appetite or Weight:

Significant changes in appetite or weight are common indicators of depression. This can manifest as either an increase or decrease in appetite, leading to noticeable weight gain or loss.

4. Sleep Disturbances:

Sleep patterns are often disrupted in individuals with depression. Insomnia, characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or hypersomnia, marked by excessive sleep, may be present.

5. Psychomotor Agitation or Retardation:

Observable changes in physical activity may occur. Some individuals with depression experience psychomotor agitation, where they are restless and fidgety, while others may exhibit psychomotor retardation, displaying slowed movements and speech.

6. Fatigue or Loss of Energy:

Persistent feelings of fatigue or a significant decrease in energy levels are common symptoms of depression. Even simple tasks can become overwhelming and exhausting.

7. Feelings of Worthlessness or Excessive Guilt:

Individuals with depression often harbor negative self-perceptions, feeling worthless or excessively guilty about past actions or perceived shortcomings.

8. Difficulty Concentrating or Indecisiveness:

Depression can impair cognitive function, making it challenging to concentrate, make decisions, or remember details. This can impact work, school, and daily activities.

9. Suicidal Thoughts or Behaviors:

Individuals with depression may experience thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or engage in self-harming behaviors.

Duration and Impairment:

To meet the diagnostic criteria for depression, symptoms must persist for at least two weeks and significantly interfere with daily functioning, relationships, or overall quality of life.


Depression is a nuanced and multifaceted mental health condition that requires careful consideration of various symptoms and their impact on an individual's life. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, seeking professional help is crucial. Mental health professionals can conduct a thorough assessment, provide a diagnosis, and work collaboratively to develop a tailored treatment plan for recovery. Understanding the diagnostic criteria is a crucial step toward recognizing and addressing depression with empathy and support.

By Ben Lea, RMN, CBT & EMDR Therapist, Congleton, Cheshire.

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