You've been feeling particularly anxious, depressed, or irritable lately. How do you know if it's time to seek help? While not a substitute for diagnosis by a medical professional, a number of online questionnaires, including a new one discussed in a study published in the March-April issue of Annals of Family Medicine, can help you determine whether your symptoms are something to be concerned about. Bradley Gaynes, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, notes that a positive result doesn't mean you have a psychiatric illness. But it does mean you're "having some distressing psychiatric symptoms" and might benefit from expert attention.
"If you turn out to have a high score on any of these things, go see a psychiatrist and get a proper diagnosis," advises Ivan Goldberg, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City since the 1960s who has developed several screening tools that are widely posted on mental-health websites. Goldberg's tools and the new questionnaire, called My Mood Monitor, are just a few of the mental-health screening tools available on the Internet; Google "mental health questionnaire," and you'll see more than 3 million results testing for everything from depression to ADHD and anxiety disorders. (Note: Any thoughts of suicide warrant prompt professional attention. )
[Find out how to identify suicide risk before it's too late.]
Here is a look at My Mood Monitor and two of Goldberg's screening tools:
My Mood Monitor, also known as the M-3 Checklist. This online questionnaire "indicates whether someone may be at increased risk" for four conditions: depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, says Gaynes, lead author of the new study evaluating how well My Mood Monitor recognizes true illness. The tool was developed by clinicians from Georgetown University, Columbia University, and the Bipolar Collaborative Network.
The study, which involved 647 participants ages 18 and older, showed that the screening tool was more than 50 percent accurate for testing for depression or anxiety disorders and about 20 to 25 percent accurate for PTSD, Gaynes says. The tool involves selecting how often, during the past two weeks, you've been able to relate (not at all, rarely, sometimes, often, most of the time) to statements such as "I feel sad, down in the dumps or unhappy" or "I feel tense, anxious or can't sit still." Answering the questions delivers an "assessment report" that explains whether you are likely or unlikely to be suffering from a mood or anxiety disorder.
Depression Screening Test. This 18-item quiz, developed by Goldberg, is intended to measure symptoms of what could be depression as well as to track changes in your feelings or behavior over time. This type of screening can help differentiate depression symptoms from those of bipolar disorder (for which Goldberg developed a bipolar screening tool). A big mistake clinicians make "is not recognizing that somebody has some subtle form of bipolar disorder and [instead] treating them as if they have depression," prescribing antidepressants as a treatment, Goldberg says. Eventually, taking the antidepressant may result in a bipolar person feeling irritable, angry, or anxious, or it could do nothing at all, he says. With this screening tool, "people can at least bring that to their family doctor or psychiatrist" for a full evaluation. A 2001 pilot study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care found that Goldberg's depression scale was suitable for monitoring depressed patients for signs of improvement.
Like My Mood Monitor, the depression questionnaire asks you to select how often you can relate to statements such as "I do things slowly," "the pleasure and joy has gone out of my life," or "I feel depressed even when good things happen to me." Answering all of the questions produces a score; 54 and above may indicate severe depression, 36 to 53 can mean moderate-severe depression, 22 to 35 may mean mild-moderate depression, 18 to 21 may indicate borderline depression, 10 to 17 may mean possible mild depression, and 0 to 9 means depression is unlikely.