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Beck Depression Inventory

Written by sshowalter.

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Originally published in 1961 (with three updates to the test since) the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), invented by the father of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Aaron T. Beck, is one of the instruments most widely used to diagnose Major Depression. This 21 item questionnaire, designed for adults (13+ years old), assesses the presence of the following signs of depression: hopelessness and irritability, cognitions such as guilt or feelings of being punished, as well as physical symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, and lack of interest in sex.

As the test went through revisions, it became more and more reliable. It was, and in some ways continues to be, tested for and continues to positively displayed internal consistency1 (meaning the questions correlate to one another), tested against a trained clinician's diagnosis/interview (positively correlated with the Hamilton Depression Scale used by clinicians) and have a high one-week test-retest reliability (suggesting that it is consistent over time).

The test asks patients to answer 21 questions that inquire about their mood and physical symptoms of depression over the past 2 weeks. The questions cover the 9 symptoms of depression outlined in the DSM-IV as discussed on this site. Questions are scored on a 4 point scale (0-3) and BDI total scores of 10-18 are consistent with mild, 19-29 with moderate, and 30 or higher with severe depression.2

(Though the BDI is intended for all adults aged 13 and over, the Geriatric Depression Scale is targeted specifically for persons 75 and older and might be more applicable for this age group as elderly persons can exhibit depression in different ways than younger adults.)

  1. Beck, A., Steer, R., Ball, R., & Ranieri, W. Comparison of Beck Depression Inventories -IA and -II in Psychiatric Outpatients. Journal of Personality ASsessment, 1996, 97(3), p 595.
  2. US Department of Health and Human Services. Assessment and Treatment of Depression in Patients with Cardiovascular Disease. Accessed on September 9, 2010 from

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