Navigating Mental Health Assessments: Understanding GAD-7, PHQ-9, and DASS-21

May 16, 2024
# min read

Mental health assessments can help you keep track of your psychological well-being and identify potential concerns that may require professional attention. These popular assessments promote self-awareness, helping individuals track their mental health over time. In this post, we'll explore three common assessments: the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item (GAD-7) scale, the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), and the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales 21 (DASS-21), with a particular focus on DASS-21, which we employ in our program.

The GAD-7 for Anxiety

The GAD-7 is a brief measure primarily used to screen for generalized anxiety disorder. It consists of seven questions that assess the severity of various signs of anxiety over the past two weeks. Health professionals often use it to monitor symptom severity and response to treatment. It is a straightforward tool that can help individuals recognize possible anxiety-related symptoms in a non-clinical setting.

The PHQ-9 for Depression

The PHQ-9 functions similarly to the GAD-7 but focuses on depression. This questionnaire includes nine items, which align with the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder. The PHQ-9 is widely utilized in both clinical and research settings to assess the presence and severity of depressive symptoms. Like the GAD-7, it can also provide insight into the efficacy of treatment over time.

Our Pick: the DASS-21

At TheraHive, we use the DASS-21, a set of three self-report scales designed to measure the negative emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress. Each of these three scales contains seven items, making it a comprehensive tool for evaluating a broad spectrum of emotions. The DASS-21 helps us understand the impact of our courses on participants' mental health and raises awareness about various emotional states. It's a crucial component of our educational toolkit, enabling participants to reflect on their emotional well-being effectively.

Using Assessments Responsibly

While these tools are beneficial, it's essential to approach them with an understanding of their limitations. These assessments are not diagnostic tools nor a substitute for professional healthcare advice. They are best used as a preliminary step in identifying potential issues that may warrant further professional evaluation. In educational settings like ours, assessments help us gauge the impact of our mental health courses on learning and awareness.

For those tracking changes in their mental health over time, incorporating assessments like the DASS-21 alongside diary cards can provide a nuanced view of how responses evolve, which can be particularly valuable in therapeutic or educational contexts.

How Often Should You Use These Assessments

Taking these assessments over time can help you monitor your progress as you work to improve your mental health. For example, a cadence we often recommend to TheraHive students is to use these assessments to check in on their progress every three months. It's natural for results to fluctuate amidst the ups and downs of life, so don’t get disheartened if you don’t always see improvement.

Mental health assessments like the GAD-7, PHQ-9, and DASS-21 are powerful tools that can enhance our understanding of mental health and provide insights into our emotional wellbeing. However, they should be used judiciously and within the context of professional guidance. Whether used in educational settings or personal monitoring, these tools can support a broader strategy aimed at fostering greater mental health awareness and facilitating early intervention strategies.


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