Beck Depression Inventory (BDI)

A brief history:

Depression is a common, serious psychiatric illness characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life and also negatively affects how we feel, the way we think, and how we act. The Beck Depression Inventory is one of the widely used as an assessment tool used by health care professionals and researchers in a variety of settings to measure symptoms of depression.

The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) is a 21-item self-reporting questionnaire for evaluating the severity of depression in psychiatric and non-psychiatric populations. It was developed psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck in 1961, which based on the theory of negative cognitive distortions as central to depression.

Purpose: The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) is basically designed to measures characteristic attitudes and symptoms of depression.

Population: Adolescents and adults.

Score: Produces single score indicating intensity of the depressive episode.

Time: Approximately 10 minutes.

Education: 5th – 6th grade reading level to adequately understand the questions.

Author: Aaron T. Beck.

Publisher: Center for Cognitive Therapy.

Description: The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) consists of 21 multiple-choice format item whose purpose is to measure the presence and degree of depression in adolescents and adults. Each of the 21-items of the BDI attempts to assess a specific symptom that appears to be specific to depressed patients. Beck’s depression inventory is designed to measure depression independently of a specific theoretical basis.

Symptom of depression

Scoring: Each of the inventory items corresponds to a specific category of depressive symptoms. Each category’s purpose is to describe a specific behavioral manifestation of depression and consists of a graded series of four self-evaluative statements.

The statements are rank-ordered and weighted to reflect the range of severity of the symptom from neutral to maximum severity. Numerical Values of 0, 1, 2, or 3 are assigned each statement to indicate the degree of severity.

Beck stated that there is no arbitrary cutoff score and the specific cutoff depends on the characteristics of the patients used and the purpose for which the inventory is given.

Reliability: Test-retest reliability has been studied in the case of 38 patients who were given the BDI on two occasions. It found that the changes in BDI scores tended to parallel changes in the clinical reading of the depth of the depression, indicating a consistent relationship between BDI scores and the patient’s clinical state. The reliability figures here were above .90. Internal consistency studies demonstrated a correlation coefficient of .86 for the test items, and the Spearman-Brown correlation for the reliability of the BDI yielded a coefficient of .93.

Validity: In assessing the validity of the BDI, the readily apparent face validity of the BDI must be addressed. The BDI looks as though it is assessing depression. While this may be quite advantageous, it may make it easy for a subject to distorting the results of the test.

The Content validity would seem to be quite high since the BDI appears to evaluate well a wide variety of symptoms and attitudes associated with depression. One study addressing concurrent validity demonstrated a correlation of .77 between the inventory and psychiatric rating using university students as subjects. Beck reports similar to the studies in which coefficients of .65 and .67 were obtained in comparing results of the BDI with psychiatric ratings of patients.

Norms: Normative sample included 226 psychiatric in- and out-patients.

Suggested Uses: The BDI is recommended in research and clinical settings.

Read more: Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI)


Beck AT, Ward CH, Mendelson M, Mock J, Erbaugh J. An inventory for measuring depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1961; 4:561–571.

Beck AT, Steer RA, Garbin MG. Psychometric properties of the Beck Depression Inventory: twenty-five years of evaluation. Clin Psychol Rev 1988; 8:77–100.

Beck AT, Steer RA, Brown GK. BDI-II: Beck Depression Inventory Manual. 2nd edn. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation, 1996.

Piotrowski C, Sherry D, Keller JW. Psychodiagnostics test usage: a survey of the society for personality assessment. J Pers Assess 1985; 49:115–119.

Beck AT, Steer RA. Manual for the Beck Depression Inventory. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation, 1987.

Steer RA, Beck AT, Garrison B. Applications of the Beck Depression Inventory. In: Sartorius N, Ban TA, eds. Assessment of Depression. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 1986; 121–142.

Kendall PC, Hollon SD, Beck AT, Hammen CL, Ingram RE. Issues and recommendations regarding use of the Beck Depression Inventory. Cognitive Ther Res 1987; 11:289–299.

Groth-Marnat G. (1990). The handbook of psychological assessment (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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