How to Interpret the Beck Depression Inventory

Written by matthew schieltz
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The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) was developed by Aaron T. Beck and is a self-report scale used to assess the symptoms of major depressive disorder in both adolescents and adults. The latest version of the test, the BDI-II, was published in 1996 and was created to correspond more closely with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). With proper knowledge, interpreting the test scores is not difficult.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Beck Depression Inventory Test Manual

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  1. 1

    After your patient fills out the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), sum the 4-point scales for each of the 21 items. Examples of constructs that the BDI measures include worthlessness, self-dislike, suicidal thoughts, loss of interest in things they used to enjoy and loss of energy. The 4-point scales range from 0 (meaning symptom not present) to 3 (meaning severe).

  2. 2

    Compare the total score derived from the items on the Beck Depression Inventory with the chart or instructions provided in the BDI test manual. Scores between 29 and 63 indicate severe symptoms, whereas scores of 0 to 13 are considered to be in a minimal range of symptoms.

  3. 3

    Consider whether the self-report test score reflects any response bias or altering of answers by the patient or client. Self-report measures can be inaccurate if a person decides to answer in such a way that will make him or her look "better" to another person.A person also may be too embarrassed to answer how they are truly feeling.

  4. 4

    Make an interpretive judgment about the patient's symptoms based on past clinical experience, your own observations, the results of the Beck Depression Inventory and what you already know about depressive disorders. Low scores reflect minimal symptoms of major depressive disorder, whereas higher ones indicate severe symptoms.

Tips and warnings

  • According to the Beck Depression Inventory test manual, this self-report measure is not to be used as a diagnostic tool but only serves to assess the severity of depressive symptoms.
  • The Beck Depression Inventory should always be administered and interpreted only by a trained clinical professional.

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