What's Beck's Depression Inventory?

Beck's depression inventory is one of the most popular tests in clinical practice. This is because it's simple to apply and it evaluates the intensity of depression.
What's Beck's Depression Inventory?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

This interesting instrument is more than 50 years old. However, it’s had various adaptations, the most important in 2011. This year, the Spanish version was published. Beck’s Depression Inventory is almost an indispensable resource for assessing both adult patients and adolescents 13 and older.

Similarly, the BDI-II (Beck Depression Inventory-Second Edition) has also been modified several times according to the diagnosis of depressive disorders included in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Because of this, it’s one of the most common tests in any context related to clinical psychology, forensic psychology, or neuropsychology.

A photo of Aaron Beck

What’s Beck’s Depression Inventory used for?

Beck’s Depression Inventory was created by Aaron T. Beck, a psychiatrist. This name should ring a bell basically because of one detail: this psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania laid the foundations of cognitive therapy. He initially devised it to deal with mood disorders, but later this approach became more and more important in many other areas.

Cognitive theory is based on the idea that there’s a direct relationship between the thoughts and emotions we experience. All this, in turn, influences our behavior. Working on aspects such as our cognitive framework, our beliefs, or the conception we have of ourselves and our surroundings is key to managing discomfort and producing change.

In 1961, the Beck Depression Inventory first appeared in the clinical setting. It was accepted for several reasons: it was easy for patients to understand, easy for specialists to apply, and, most importantly, easy to use.

What does the Beck Depression Inventory measure?

This tool is used to detect depression and its severity. It can apply to children from the age of 13. The patients themselves complete the test by answering its 21 questions.

It’s important to note that the questions that appear in the test don’t derive from any specific theory. This is something that does occur in other tests, such as projective tests (the family test, the tree test, a man in the rain test, etc.).

In this case, the inventory is limited to presenting questions describing the most common clinical symptoms of psychiatric patients with depression. Then, the people must assess for themselves whether or not they identify with these questions.

A woman looking likes she's contemplating.


The Beck Depression Inventory consists of 21 questions with four types of answers. The latter range from zero to three and describe the degree to which the person identifies with the described reality. In this case, zero would mean that the person doesn’t identify at all, and a three would describe a fact they identify almost 100% with.

  • It’s for individual or collective application.
  • On average, a patient takes no more than five to ten minutes to perform the test. However, people with severe disorders such as obsessive disorder or major depression usually need much more time.
  • On the other hand, a very common occurrence is that there are people who identify with more than one answer and can’t mark only one item. If this happens, experts allow them to mark up to two options. When they evaluate the test, they’ll look at the option with the highest number.

What characteristics does the inventory address?

As we’ve pointed out, this instrument is basically limited to describing the characteristics that arise in depressive disorders that diagnostic manuals support. Therefore, it’s up to the individual to communicate whether they feel identified and to what degree.

The items that appear in the Beck Depression Inventory are the following:

  • Sadness.
  • Pessimism.
  • Feelings of failure.
  • Loss of pleasure.
  • Feelings of guilt.
  • Feelings of punishment.
  • Dissatisfaction with one’s self.
  • Self-criticism.
  • Loss of interest.
  • Indecision.
  • Loss of energy.
  • Sleep habits.
  • Irritability.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Problems with concentration.
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of interest in sex.

How experts assess it

Experts find it easy to evaluate this tool. They calculate the 21 items to have a number that ranges from zero to 63. There are four categories:

  • 0-13. Minimal depression.
  • 14-19. Mild depression.
  • 20-28. Moderate depression.
  • 29-63. Severe depression.
An interview with two women, one is using Beck's depression inventory

As you can imagine, the real work comes after the first interviews. This also includes evaluations, and gathering of all the data and information about the patient. It’s true that Beck’s Depression Inventory is useful as a diagnostic technique, but the most decisive part begins after, with psychological therapy.

In conclusion, it’s an instrument that’s as practical as it is valid when it comes to depressive disorders.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Beck, A.T., Steer, R.A., & Brown, G.K. (1996). Manual for the Beck Depression Inventory-II. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.