Are a lot of the people in your life not very happy? Then you might say to yourself, That’s just life. And as a result, you might not talk to a doctor about whether you have depression…even if you do.

Do the people in your life tend to be upbeat and calm? Then you might mistakenly conclude that if you feel blue or worried, you must be depressed and need drugs…when in fact you don’t!

It’s all a question of how well you can truly “know thyself”—and a new study out of the UK makes two important points about that. First, depending on whom you hang out with, it’s very easy for your perspective on your own mental health to become skewed…and second, there is a better, more objective way that you can judge your true state of mind.


In a study at the University of Warwick, psychology PhD student Karen L. Melrose and her colleagues asked participants to fill out questionnaires asking how many days a month they felt “depressed, sad, blue and/or tearful” and on how many days they experienced “excessive anxiety.” Next, researchers asked how many days a month they believed that people in general experienced these symptoms. Finally, researchers asked subjects to rank whether or not they were depressed and/or anxious on a five-point scale—“definitely not,” “probably not,” “not sure,” “probably” or “definitely.”

You might think that those who felt depressed and/or anxious on the most days per month would be the most likely to say that they were “definitely” depressed and/or anxious, but that wasn’t the case.

Instead, researchers found that subjects were not influenced by their symptoms’ frequency—but rather by how their symptoms ranked in comparison to other people that they knew. For example, if a participant reported that he felt depressed, say, 10 days a month and reported that people, in general, also felt depressed 10 days a month, then he was more likely to say that he was “definitely not depressed.” On the other hand, if a participant reported that he felt depressed 10 days a month and reported that people, in general, felt depressed zero days a month, then he was more likely to say that he was “definitely depressed.”

In other words, Melrose explained, two people can experience the same symptoms the same number of days a month but come to very different conclusions—based not on what they feel and experience but on what they believe others feel and experience.


Are you depressed and/or anxious? To get a more objective sense, Melrose recommends that you take the following screening quiz created by the nonprofit organization Mental Health America.

  • Click here for the anxiety/depression screening quiz.

If, based on the screening quiz above, you believe that you might have depression and/or anxiety, bring it up with your primary care provider, who can refer you to a mental health professional. Also, at the Web site of the government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,, you can enter your zip code to get information about mental health resources for depression and anxiety in your area. Keep in mind, Melrose added, that these conditions are troubling, but they are treatable.