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The 3 Most Reliable Online Depression Tests: A Guide to Mental Health Assessments

The Internet is filled with free, online depression tests. But how do you know which assessment is trustworthy?


From tests that claim to gauge depression level by whether you see an elephant or a forest, to tests that claim to determine depression symptoms by how you draw a tree, it’s clear that not all depression tests are scientific and reliable.


In this article, you’ll learn about the three most reliable depression tests found online, what they actually measure for, and when to take one.


Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9)

The PHQ-9 is a relatively recent depression test that was developed to be the gold-standard screening in general healthcare settings. This tool consists of nine questions, which directly reference the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).


The PHQ-9 can also be adapted to an even shorter tool, the PHQ-2, which consists of two questions related to the two most common symptoms of major depressive disorder. The PHQ-2 is a reliable ‘thermometer’ for mental health – it can tell you whether your mental health is generally okay, or whether depression is a real possibility and more investigation is needed.


How it’s helpful: The PHQ-9 is quick and easy for patients to complete and for anyone to interpret. It is highly accurate in screening for depression symptoms and determining their severity. It’s also effective for monitoring treatment outcomes over time.


Post-test tip: Though the PHQ-9 is easily taken and understood by patients, it’s always best to consult a clinical psychologist for accurate interpretation of the score.


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Curious about your general mental health? Take our free mental health mini-test, based on the PHQ-2.


Wondering if you’re depressed? Take our online PHQ-9 depression test.



Beck Depression Inventory (BDI)

The Beck Depression Inventory, created by Dr. Aaron T. Beck in 1961, is one of the most widely used psychometric tests for measuring the severity of depression and is widely available online. The BDI is a self-report inventory that consists of 21 multiple-choice items used to assess the intensity of depression in adults and adolescents.


How it’s helpful: The BDI’s strengths include its ease of use, straightforward scoring system, and the ability to reflect the patient’s own perceptions of their depression. It covers a wide range of symptoms and cognitive aspects of depression such as pessimism and sense of failure.


Post-test tip: Though the BDI is easily taken and understood by patients, it’s always best to consult a clinical psychologist for accurate interpretation of the score.


Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS)

Developed in the late 1950s by Max Hamilton, the HDRS (or Ham-D) is a clinician-administered test that measures depression severity. Typically involving 17 to 24 items, this scale assesses mood, guilty feelings, suicidal thoughts, insomnia, agitation, anxiety, and weight loss among other symptoms.


However, it’s important to know that though the HDRS test may be found online, it must be administered by a clinician, not filled out by the patient alone. The clinician’s skill is essential for understanding the patient’s answers and making sure the assessment is accurate.


How it helps: The HDRS is particularly valued for its thoroughness and the depth of insight it provides to the practitioner. This scale allows clinicians to observe and rate the patient’s symptoms, which is helpful for tracking depression and how well treatment is working.


How to take a depression test

Taking a depression test typically involves completing a questionnaire or scale that assesses the presence and severity of depressive symptoms.


These tests can be administered in various settings, including a clinician’s office, a family doctor’s clinic, or online.


Honesty and thoughtful reflection on the past two weeks are essential when taking a test like the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), or Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS). These depression tests shouldn’t be rushed, but should be completed in a single sitting.


Each question will likely ask you to rate the severity or frequency of a specific symptom. If you’re taking a depression test in a clinical setting, a mental health professional might ask additional questions after the test to better understand your situation or immediately discuss the results with you.


Online tests do not provide a definitive diagnosis, as they identify symptoms and severity but cannot synthesise the results. Any depression test must be followed by a discussion of results with a mental health professional who can offer greater insight around each symptom and discuss potential treatment options.


What your test results reveal

The results from these depression tests identify the presence and severity of depressive symptoms.


But even severe symptoms don’t necessarily translate to a diagnosis – just as a high fever and cough are symptoms of poor physical health but many different conditions, symptoms related to depression may also have links to many other mental health experiences.


Depression tests, therefore, simply point you to whether further evaluation is necessary and what treatment strategies might be most effective.


When to take a depression test

You might want to consider a depression test if you or a loved one has been experiencing symptoms such as persistent sadness, loss of interest or joy in your usual activities, changes in appetite or sleep, fatigue, or feelings of worthlessness over a period of more than two weeks.


The depression tests above can be an excellent window into your current state of mind and a helpful pointer in determining whether you want to seek mental healthcare and if so, what kind: online self-therapy or one-on-one therapy sessions.

Ultimately, the decision to take a depression test, and which one, is yours, as is the decision to follow up with a mental health professional.


But know this: there is no risk in better understanding your mental health, only benefits.




  • Bagby RM Ryder AG Schuller DR Marshall MB . The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale: has the gold standard become a lead weight? Am J Psychiatry 2004;161:2163–2177.
  • Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Garbin, M. G. (1988). Psychometric properties of the Beck Depression Inventory: Twenty-five years of evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review, 8(1), 77–100.
  • Kroenke K, Spitzer RL, Williams JB. The PHQ-9: validity of a brief depression severity measure. J Gen Intern Med. 2001 Sep;16(9):606-13.


Raksha Rajesh (M.Sc., M.Phil., CRR No. A80195) is a clinical psychologist licensed by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). She has 6+ years of experience in helping people from diverse backgrounds build skills to understand and manage their emotions.

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