Beck’s Depression Inventory (BDI Test)

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Practical Psychology

I’m not a psychiatrist, nor am I a medical professional. But I have a tool for you to begin assessing your mental health and whether you may be experiencing depression. This tool, the Beck Depression Inventory, is one of the top tools used to assess a person’s mental health and determine whether they are experiencing depression.

Feelings like guilt, loneliness, and fear can make a serious impact on a person’s ability to feel hopeful and happy. This can be caused by big events, small events, or just being a human.

If this sounds like you and you are worried about your mental health, know that you’re not alone. Emergency hotlines have been experiencing high call volumes since the turn of the decade. These resources are free to use and often confidential. But is it time for you to seek help? Are you simply going through routine “ups and downs,” or could your feelings be a symptom of a more serious mood disorder?

What Is the Beck Depression Inventory?

The Beck Depression Inventory was first published in 1961. It was created by Aaron T.Beck, one of the pioneers of cognitive behavioral therapy. The Beck Depression Inventory, as well as the Beck Hopelessness Scale, Beck Anxiety Inventory, and other tools that cognitive behavioral therapists can use in their practices.

The Beck Depression Inventory marked a significant shift in the way that therapists assessed someone for mood disorders, as well as recognizing the causes of those disorders.

What Is Depression? 

Depression is a term for a group of medical illnesses that affects mood, behavior, and quality of life. A person with any type of depression may experience prolonged feelings of sadness, loss of interest in life, or reduced self-esteem. Symptoms can last for a few weeks or an entire life.

Fortunately, depression is treatable. A range of treatments can manage symptoms of depression, but this starts with recognizing and properly diagnosing a person. 

What Are the Symptoms of Depression? 

  • Prolonged feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or apathy
  • Excessive crying 
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities and passions
  • Fatigue or insomnia
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Mood swings 
  • Anxiety 
  • Thoughts of death or suicide 

If you experience these symptoms consistently for more than two weeks, you may be diagnosed with depression. Other medical illnesses may mimic the same symptoms, so your doctor may try to rule those illnesses out before proceeding with treatment. 

If left untreated, depression can also affect the physical body. Lack of sleep, the rewiring of the brain, and changes in appetite can result in symptoms including:

  • Lower energy levels
  • Slower movements 
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Lack of focus 
  • Restless sleep 

If You Are Experiencing Thoughts of Suicide or Self-Harm…

Please reach out to a professional medical professional or hotline. Most hotlines are available 24/7 and offer confidential resources for you to talk through your symptoms and find treatment options: 

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Hotline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 
  • Mental Health Coalition (mental health care for BIPOC communities): text COALITION to 741741
  • Trevor Project (mental health care for LGBTQ+ communities): text START to 678-678 or call 1-866-488-7386

What Does Depression Feel Like? (Examples) 

Jenna doesn’t ever want to get out of bed and when she wakes up, she finds no motivation to do anything: clean, cook, hang out with her friends, etc. Even her favorite hobbies, like art or crafting, don’t appeal to her. As she spends more and more time in bed, she feels more miserable. Her friends start to get concerned that they haven’t seen her in a while and reach out to get her help. 

Mark gets irritable, often. Every person and event in his life, from his colleagues at work to neighbors, seems to be unbearable to him. But he has the feeling that this is never going to change, and that he is going to spend the rest of his life annoyed and feeling worthless. When he is not irritable, he is sad and unmotivated. 

Marie just had a baby. Everything is supposed to be perfect: she is married, has time off from work, and is the mother to a beautiful child. But Maria is having trouble connecting with her baby. She feels frustrated when things go wrong and can’t seem to experience the overwhelming joy that other mothers experience after childbirth. These feelings make Maria feel ashamed, and she spends most nights awake worrying about her capabilities as a mother. 

Different Types of Depression

  • Clinical depression
  • Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)
  • Bipolar disorder (manic depression) 
  • Bipolar II disorder
  • Postpartum depression

Symptoms may look slightly different or coincide with other symptoms. A licensed medical professional can help you determine which of these illnesses you may be experiencing. 

Clinical depression

Clinical depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder, is probably what you think about when you hear the word “depression.” This depression is not tied to events like the death of a loved one or the birth of a child. People of any age, including children, may experience clinical depression. 

Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)

Dysthymia is a mild, but persistent, form of depression. People with persistent depressive disorder may not experience thoughts of suicide or self-harm, but their loss of interest or chronic fatigue may hold them back from doing the things they love. 

Bipolar disorder (manic depression) 

Bipolar disorder is characterized by having mood swings between “typical” symptoms of depression and “manic” symptoms. These symptoms include: 

  • Unusually high energy
  • Lack of sleep
  • Delusions 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Illogical thinking
  • Loss of focus 
  • Self-importance
  • Irritability 

People diagnosed with bipolar disorder will experience manic episodes, but may or may not experience depressive episodes. 

Bipolar II disorder

People diagnosed with bipolar II disorder will experience depressive episodes, but may or may not experience manic episodes. Or, their manic episodes may be less severe. There is no “cure” for bipolar or bipolar II disorder, and treatments look different than those for clinical or persistent depressive disorder. 

Postpartum depression

Postpartum depression is a type of depression experienced by people who have just given birth. In addition to the “typical” mental and physical symptoms of depression, a person experiencing postpartum depression may have trouble connecting with their infant. Childbearing parents who experience depression before having a child are more likely to experience postpartum depression and parents who experience postpartum depression are more likely to experience depression later in life. Around 10-14% of childbearing parents experience postpartum depression.

Depression vs. Grief

Grief is a feeling that many people experience after loss. Typically, this loss is death (death of a loved one, death of a pet, etc.) but other types of loss (loss of a job, loss of a friendship) may also bring grief. The symptoms of grief mimic depression. If a person isolates themselves or does not seek support after a loss, their symptoms may become a depressive disorder. Medical health professionals in your area may specialize in grief counseling and help you understand and manage your symptoms. Although depression often lasts longer than two weeks at a time, grief can come in waves over the course of many years. 

Are Depression and Anxiety the Same Thing? 

People may experience depression and anxiety simultaneously, but they are two different diagnoses. While depression is characterized by slow movements, hopelessness, and bleak feelings, anxiety is more restlessness. People with anxiety often find themselves worrying about the future. 

Just like depression, anxiety is an umbrella term that covers many different diagnoses. A person who experiences symptoms of anxiety may be diagnosed with panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, and more. 

Psychoanalysis and CBT

Before Beck came along, psychoanalysis was at the forefront of psychology. Freud believed that mood disorders and other symptoms were the results of trauma and experiences found in a person’s unconscious mind. All negative behaviors could point back to the unconscious mind. A therapist would use word association, dream interpretation, and other methods to uncover what was hiding in the unconscious. By unpacking these experiences, the patient may be cured of the mood disorder, and they would no longer think negatively about themselves or the world.


But Beck had a different theory as to what caused symptoms of depression and other mood disorders. He didn’t believe that the mood disorder caused someone to think bad things. He believed that these bad thoughts caused the mood disorder.

For example, let’s say someone were to begin thinking “I have made so many mistakes.” They think it over and over, and every time they encounter an opportunity, they think to themselves, “I will just make another mistake.” Beck believed that these thought patterns led to depression.

This was revolutionary at the time. Therapists began to replace psychoanalysis with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT.)Instead of unpacking a patient’s dreams, they would discover how the patient was talking to themselves. They would look at the ways that the patient perceives certain situations and reflects on their past experiences. Using this information, they could make diagnoses, offer tools, and show a patient how their negative thoughts were causing negative moods and symptoms.

If you go to a therapist today, you will likely go through a similar experience, and for that you can thank Aaron T.Beck.

About the Beck Depression Inventory (Cost and Validity)

The current version of the Beck Depression Inventory is similar to the original version created in 1961, but it has undergone some changes. New versions of the BDI were published in both 1978 and 1996. Experts recommend this tool primarily for adolescents over the age of 13, but it can also be used to assess an adult’s feelings and potential mood disorder. Use it for free on this website or online and explore your symptoms.

All versions are a self-assessment with 21 questions. Each question consists of four statements, each corresponding with a number from 0-3.

Here’s an example of one of the questions:

  • 0 I am not particularly discouraged about the future.
  • 1 I feel discouraged about the future.
  • 2 I feel I have nothing to look forward to.
  • 3 I feel the future is hopeless and that things cannot improve.

Keep track of your answers and add them up at the end. The results will either suggest that you are experiencing:

  • Minimal depression
  • Mild depression
  • Moderate depression
  • Severe depression

There is no need to take the test again and again throughout the week. Even if you are going through general “ups and downs,” you will likely get the same answer if you take the test the next day or the day after.

Total ScoreLevel of Depression

Normal Ups and Downs


Mild Mood Disturbance


Borderline Clinical Depression


Moderate Depression


Severe Depression


Extreme Depression

The Beck Depression Inventory has been considered extremely reliable, even after it has been translated and distributed around the world.

How to Use The Beck Depression Inventory Score

Your score might surprise you. It might also reveal something that you might have been thinking about, but were nervous to admit. Continue to track your score throughout the year to understand how seasons and life events may affect your mood.

If your score suggests that you are moderately or severely depressed, do not feel guilty asking for help. Do not feel ashamed. The state of the world, the pressure to isolate, and general stress can have serious effects. You are not weak for feeling hopeless, pessimistic, or sad during these times.

There are many ways to seek treatment for depression and other mood disorders. You can search online for a therapist near you. You can use an app like BetterHealth or Talkspace to reach a professional without leaving your home. If you prefer to be in a group setting, consider looking up support groups in your area.

online therapy

In the meantime, take a look at your routine. Are you exercising? Are you taking time to connect with friends and family? Do you have time to read, write, or indulge in hobbies? Small changes to your routine could help you enjoy the day a little bit more.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2020, June). Beck’s Depression Inventory (BDI Test). Retrieved from

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