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Beck Depression Inventory

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The Beck Depression Inventory, or BDI, is a 21-question test designed to assess the degree and severity of depressive symptoms. Originally developed in 1961, the inventory has been revised twice, with the most recent edition published in 1996. The BDI is designed to be conducted by a knowledgeable mental health care provider, and is not recommended for self-administration. There is also an abbreviated version of the quiz, intended to aid primary care physicians in detecting initial symptoms of depression.

How is the Beck Depression Inventory used?

The Beck Depression Inventory consists of 21 questions that determine the severity of specific depressive symptoms over a two-week span. The first half of the BDI focuses on psychological symptoms, such as suicidal thoughts, guilt, pessimism, mood, and irritability. The latter questions evaluate physical symptoms, like insomnia, appetite, fatigue, and weight loss.

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Each question has four possible answers to choose from, and each answer is assigned a numerical value from 0-3, according to the severity of the particular symptom. A patient's total score indicates the scope of his or her depression, based on the following ranges:

  • 0 - 13 Minimal - Mild Depression
  • 14 - 19 Mild Depression
  • 20 - 28 Moderate Depression
  • 29 - 63 Severe Depression

Although it takes only 5-10 minutes to complete, the Beck Depression Inventory allows professionals to not only ascertain the severity of specific symptoms, but also more accurately diagnose different types of depression, such as major depressive disorder and dysthymia (a chronic but less severe grade of depression).

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What are the limitations of the Beck Depression Inventory?

Despite its proven reliability and popularity among mental health professionals, the Beck Depression Inventory does have its limitations. For starters, the current edition is not available to the general public, and is only intended for use under the supervision of a trained professional.

Because the inventory is based on a patient's reports, inaccurate responses or misunderstood questions can skew the test results. Also, distinct medical conditions can distort the validity of a diagnosis. For example, patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome might report high levels of irritability and exhaustion, which do not necessarily reflect the severity of their depression.

Despite its limitations, the BDI is widely regarded in the medical community as an accurate screening tool for depression, and its results considered over 90% reliable when compared to clinical assessments. 

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