Vital Signs for Mood Disorders

Common assessment tools are critical for both arriving at reliable diagnoses and tracking outcomes. Currently, a number of different evidence-based tools are used to diagnose depression, bipolar illness and related conditions in research and clinical settings. Prior to the formation of the NNDC, there has been no commonly-accepted clinical language to describe and screen for depression, bipolar disorder and related illnesses.

The importance of developing a standard set of screening and monitoring tools – a common way for clinicians everywhere to take the mental “vital signs” of a patient – cannot be overemphasized. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 2009, depression or bipolar disorder is misdiagnosed or completely missed as often as half the time by current standards of assessment.  There are also no early screening tests for adolescents, though depression is increasing among children.

In response, the NNDC has developed a package of standardized screening and monitoring measures for these illnesses. The package contains five different patient-rated evaluative measures.  The dissemination of these scales across centers is a vital first step toward improving diagnosis and treatment and designing stronger research studies.