Today is National Depression Screening Day, which means everyone has free access to an online screening tool that can assess for signs of depression. That's important, because early intervention is key to effective treatment.

Identify the Early Warning Signs of Depression

There are several different kinds of depression, such as dysthymia and major depression, and symptoms range in severity. On the mild end, symptoms may include minor irritability and a slight decrease in appetite. But the severe end of the spectrum may include difficulty performing daily activities and an increased risk of suicide.

Although depression is best treated when it's caught early, many people don't recognize the early warnings signs. The symptoms of depression can be subtle and they're often attributed to other issues, like stress or aging. As a result, people with mild depression often delay treatment, and the longer treatment is delayed, the worse their depression becomes.

Getting Treatment for Depression

A 2011 survey published in the Annals of Family Medicine discovered that more than two-fifths of adults don't tell their doctor about their depression. While some survey participants reported they feared their doctor would prescribe anti-depressants, others felt like depression was out of their doctor's realm of expertise.

Primary care physicians are actually a great place to start the conversation about depression. Tell your doctor if you're feeling down or if you're experiencing changes to your sleeping or eating habits.

Your doctor may prescribe an anti-depressant medication. If your doctor thinks you should see someone who specializes in prescribing psychiatric medication, you may be referred to a psychiatrist. But ultimately, it's your decision if you want to treat your depression with medication.

Your doctor may also recommend therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy addresses the thoughts and behaviors that reinforce depression and it's a very effective form of treatment.

How the Depression Screening Tool Helps

Answering a few simple questions on the depression screening tool will reveal any warning signs that could be indicative of depression. If the screening tool identifies potential red flags, you'll be given information on how to get help in your area.

Learning about the symptoms and risk factors of depression increases the chances that people will seek help. A survey by the University of Connecticut found that 55% of participants who completed an online depression screening tool sought treatment within three months.

How to Take the Test

Go to the National Depression Screening Day website and take the test. You'll be asked a few demographic questions and then, the screening begins. You'll be asked simple questions, such as how often you experience loss of appetite or difficulty concentrating. After answering those questions, you'll receive immediate feedback about your risk of depression.

After you take the test for yourself, encourage your friends, family members, and employees to use the screening tool as well. Encourage everyone you know to devote a few minutes to evaluate their risk of depression.

Talking to others about depression helps reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. It can also be a good way to start a conversation about the steps you can take to build mental strength and reduce your risk of mental health problems.