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55 Depression Screening Questions to Ask During a Therapy Session

Depression is a common mental health concern that affects approximately 5% of adults around the world, according to the World Health Organization. Depression symptoms are often rooted in a combination of social, psychological, and genetic factors, which explains individual differences that clinicians see among their clients. Keep reading to learn 55 depression screening questions to ask your clients in therapy sessions.

Individuals who are living with depression may find themselves struggling with concentration, low self-worth, changes in sleep, feeling hopeless, and having a loss of interest in enjoyable activities. Examples of situational triggers that can contribute to depressive symptoms include feeling overwhelmed at school or work, health concerns, financial troubles, or grief and loss. Depending on the client’s relevant factors, their depressive symptoms could last for a short period of time, or linger for weeks to months. For some, depressive symptoms are tied to a mental health concern such as major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder.

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When working with clients who are struggling with depressive symptoms, depression questions can be used to explore the symptoms that your client is experiencing. Two important topics to explore with clients are any thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Being thorough and thoughtful about the depression questions that you use can help you determine the severity of your client’s concerns, and what kind of support they need. While it can be concerning to have a client who has thoughts about dying, it is not unusual to have passing thoughts of death and dying, which illustrates the importance of your depression screening questions.

Depression symptoms can have a significant impact on a person’s daily life functioning and overall well-being. Some individuals find themselves struggling to get out of bed, take care of themselves, and manage their responsibilities. The treatment approaches that we use with clients who are living with depression will depend on the severity of their symptoms, mental health history, medical history, and relevant life factors.

Approximately 16.5% of individuals who have major depression are also living with co-occurring substance use disorder. Substances can be used in an attempt to self-medicate and self-self-soothe when mental health symptoms are uncomfortable and distressing. While it may feel as though substances are reducing the level of distress at the moment, they often provide temporary relief and increase a person’s risk of developing an addiction. Depression screening questions can incorporate substance use patterns to identify any misuse and abuse.

Effective treatment options for depression can include therapy or a combination of therapy and psychotropic medications. While some clients benefit from a combination of both approaches, this is not the case for everyone. As an example, someone who is experiencing mild depressive symptoms may not warrant the need for psychotropic medications, whereas someone with severe symptoms may benefit greatly from them. Therapy can help clients learn to recognize unhealthy thoughts and new ways of thinking, and learn new coping skills. They will also have an opportunity to process any previous experiences, such as trauma and abuse, that have contributed to their current depressive symptoms. Depression treatment is available in both inpatient and outpatient treatment settings. 

Getting Ready for Your First Therapy Session with a New Client with Depression

Before meeting with a new client, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the materials that you will be using in your session. Depending on your role in your clinical setting, this can include various assessments, screeners, and a biopsychosocial assessment. Clinicians who have experience in intake sessions often develop a flow or style to their assessments that feels natural to them, which often requires less preparation for their sessions.

It can also be helpful to have a list of local resources for your clients who are struggling with depression. This can include support groups and hotlines that they can access outside their session for support.

Additionally, another important aspect of preparing for sessions is checking in with yourself to make sure that you are in a place where you can provide your client with your undivided attention. Counselors and therapists are humans, which means that we are not immune to the trials and tribulations of life. If you need to take a minute for yourself before your next session, do it! Meditations, deep breathing exercises, stretching, and listening to a favorite song are quick activities that can help you manage your own thoughts and emotions throughout the day.

Depression Questions to Ask Clients You Suspect Are Struggling With Depression

If you have not already worked with a client who is struggling with depression, it is a concern that you could easily encounter in your clinical work. Being mindful of the questions you are asking, your presence in the room, and other non-verbal signs is an important component of your assessment. When clients feel safe and heard, they are more likely to open up about their struggles. This allows us to develop an understanding of their needs and determine if there are any risk factors that need further assessment.

Examples of questions therapists ask depressed clients include:

  1. How are you feeling today?
  2. Is there anything you would like to focus on today?
  3. How would you describe your mood?
  4. Do you feel as though you have been irritable or moody lately?
  5. How has your mood affected your sleep and appetite?
  6. Can you tell me about any changes you have noticed in your appetite and diet?
  7. Have you experienced any weight gain or loss unexpectedly?
  8. How do you feel your sleeping patterns have been recently?
  9. Have experienced challenges falling asleep?
  10. What does waking up in the morning look like for you? Is this a difficult part of your day?
  11. Have you found yourself struggling to find or maintain motivation lately?
  12. Tell me about your daily routine; is there any point of the day that is more challenging than others?
  13. Can you tell me about your exercise routine?
  14. How has your mood impacted your mood exercise routine?
  15. Have you been able to manage your personal and work-related responsibilities?
  16. How often can you spend time with friends and family?
  17. What do you enjoy doing with your friends and family?
  18. Have you noticed yourself withdrawing from family or friends?
  19. Has there been any changes in the enjoyment you feel when you’re with your family and friends?
  20. What do you do for fun?
  21. How often could you do something enjoyable, like a hobby or special interest?
  22. Have you found yourself pulling away from your hobbies and other interests?
  23. Could you please describe your thoughts for me?
  24. Are there any patterns in your thoughts that bother you?
  25. Have you ever had thoughts of harming yourself?
  26. Can you tell me about your experience with self-harm?
  27. How often do you/were you engaging in self-harm?
  28. Are there any triggers that you have noticed occurring before you begin having thoughts of self-harm?
  29. Is there anything, or anyone, that has been helpful in those challenging moments?
  30. Have you thought about killing yourself?
  31. When you have thought about killing yourself, did you ever make a plan?
  32. Did you, or do you, have access to the method in your plan?
  33. What has kept you from going through with your plan?
  34. Have you attempted to kill yourself in the past?
  35. Can you tell me about what happened and how you feel about it today?
  36. Has anyone close to you completed suicide in the past?
  37. Is there anyone in your life you have felt comfortable sharing your experience with?
  38. How do you show yourself kindness?
  39. When you are having a hard day, is there anything that helps you?
  40. Can you tell me about your coping skills?
  41. Do you find yourself turning to alcohol or drugs when you are distressed?
  42. How often do you find yourself using substances to cope?
  43. Can you tell me about the people in your life who you feel supported by?
  44. Can you share with me information about any childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma that you experienced?
  45. Have you received support or treatment for your adverse childhood experiences?
  46. Have you experienced any trauma in your life?
  47. Have you experienced any significant losses, challenges, or stressors within the past year?
  48. Can you tell me about any mental health concerns you have struggled with in the past?
  49. What has helped you in the past when you were struggling with your mental health?
  50. Are there any emotions that you are uncomfortable sitting with or expressing?
  51. How do you feel you do when it comes to communicating your needs with those around you?
  52. Have you noticed any triggers for your depression?
  53. How do you feel your life would be different if you weren’t living with depression?
  54. How would your life look if you were able to cope with your depression?
  55. What are some changes that you would notice if you could cope with your depressive symptoms?

Final Thoughts on Questions Therapists Ask Clients With Depression

Depression screening questions can be used to help clinicians understand their clients’ experiences and current challenges. It is important to be mindful of the language that is used when discussing suicide and self-harm behaviors. Shying away from using specific words can create a barrier or make clients feel uncomfortable talking about their struggles.

If you would like to learn more about depression, depressive disorders, and providing depression treatment, we encourage you to look into continuing education and training opportunities near you. Supervision sessions can provide you with additional time to explore your clinical experience with clients who are living with depression and depressive-related conditions.

TherapyByPro is an online mental health directory that connects mental health pros with clients in need. If you’re a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your practice listing here. We have assessments, practice forms, and worksheet templates mental health professionals can use to streamline their practice. View all of our mental health forms, worksheet, and assessments here.

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Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC
Author: Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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