How to Apply the DSM4 Criteria for Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder is the most common type of depression found in the general population. Characterized by constant feelings of sadness and hopelessness, major depressive disorder interferes with a person's enjoyment of life. It can also have a negative impact on a person's day-to-day responsibilities. The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM4) has a list of criteria one can apply to accurately recognize major depression.

    • Become aware of how long depressive symptoms have been present. The DSM4 criteria states that major depression is likely only if the symptoms have been constant for longer than 2 weeks.
    • Recognize which symptoms have to be present for it to be considered major depression. According to the DSM4, a person has to experience either a depressed mood or a loss of interest in pleasurable activities for major depression to be considered as a possible diagnosis.
    • Learn whether someone has been abusing drugs or alcohol. If this is the case, then any symptoms of depression may be a result of that abuse. Using the DSM4 criteria, this means major depression is not likely.

    • Watch for any negative effects the depression symptoms may have on a person's work, school or family life. Depression that interferes in any of these things falls under the DSM4 criteria for major depression.

    • Keep abreast of major life changes that may affect a person's mood. The death of a loved one, a divorce, a major move or disruption in a person's career can all cause short-term depression. Under the DSM4 criteria, depression caused by any of these events would not be considered major depressive disorder.

    • Observe the number of depression symptoms a person is experiencing. For the DSM4 criteria to apply, a person must have at least five of the following symptoms: change of appetite, weight loss not related to diet, insomnia, fatigue, impaired motor skills, daily feelings of low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating and suicidal thoughts.

Tips & Warnings

  • While almost anyone can apply the DSM4 criteria to recognize major depressive disorder, only a qualified mental health professional can make an official diagnosis.
  • If a person has experienced depression brought on by major life changes and this depression lasts for more than 2 months, then it may be considered major depression under the DSM4 criteria.