Screening your Spanish speaking patients for depression

Screening your Spanish speaking patients for depression


This medical Spanish lesson focuses on screening your Spanish speaking patients for depression using the SIG E CAPS acronym: Sleep, Interests, Guilt, Energy, Concentration, Appetite, Psychomotor, Suicide.

The immigrant populations living in our communities face the kinds of things that can cause anxiety and depression; those types of situations and scenarios such as insecurities, financial stresses, housing issues, or even traumatic events during the migration process are potential stressors that can lead to anxiety and depression in the immigrant community here in the United States.

Several providers in the community health setting, particularly with Spanish speakers, talk about patients coming in with unexplainable pain and symptoms that are likely linked to psychological disorders. It’s difficult to openly and directly about depression with your Spanish-speaking patients because there are many cultural factors that make it a less than acceptable condition. However, applying the SIG E CAPS acronym will help talk around the issue.

Thinking of this, we are going to see some common ways to phrase questions and good vocabulary and verbs for these questions. Here is the SIG E CAPS lesson I taught to the Facebook group:

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Download Speaking Patients for Depression in Spanish Notes TODAY


¿Ha tenido dificultad para dormir?  Have you had trouble sleeping?
¿Ha tenido dificultad para dormirse Have you had trouble falling sleep?
¿Duerme bien?  Do you sleep well?
¿Cuántas horas por noche?   How many hours per night?
¿Es más o menos de lo normal?   Is it more or less than the normal?
¿Se despierta en la noche?   Do you wake up at night?
¿Por qué piensa que no duerme bien?   Why do you think you aren’t sleeping well?

Note: Notice we are not using the “ing” form in Spanish at all (ando, iendo) because it is not that common in Spanish as it is in English, so it is recommended using the Present Tense to ask these questions.


¿Qué cosas le gustan hacer?  What things do you like to do?
¿Ha cambiado su interés en actividades que antes disfrutaba?  Has your interest changed in activities you used to enjoy?
¿Ha perdido interés en algo?  Have you lost interest in something?
¿Ha tenido menos interés en algo?  Have you had less interest in something?


¿Lamenta o se arrepiente de algo?  Do you feel sorry or regret about something?
¿Se siente responsable o culpable por eso?  Do you feel responsible or guilty about it?

Note: You might not have caught it, but the correct pronunciation is Arrepiente and not Arrepienta. Although the two words exist in Spanish, I want to share some examples to let you know how to use them properly:

Él no se arrepiente de nada (related to the present)He doesn’t regret anything
No creo que él se arrepienta de nada  (related to ideas o beliefs)I don’t think he regrets anything
Cuando se arrepienta, será tarde  (related to the future)When he repents, it will be late
Si no se arrepiente, lo lamentará luego  (related to conditionals)If he doesn’t regret it, he will lament later

Download Speaking Patients for Depression in Spanish Notes TODAY


¿Ha notado cambios en su nivel de energía?  Have you noticed changes in your energy level?
¿Ha subido / bajado su nivel de energía?  Has your energy level been raised / lowered?
¿Tiene suficiente energía para cumplir con sus labores (deberes, responsabilidades) diarias?  Do you have enough energy to follow through with your daily tasks (duties, responsibilities)?


¿Puede concentrarse bien (en la escuela, en el trabajo)?  Can you concentrate well (at school, at work)?
¿(Le)* Es difícil enfocarse?  It is difficult for you to focus?
¿Completa sus labores a tiempo? Do you have enough energy to follow through with your daily tasks (duties, responsibilities)?

Note: Although “¿Es difícil concentrarse?” is correct, sometimes it sounds like “Is it difficult to focus?” (like a general question in Spanish). So, if you want to be closer or more direct to your patient, it’s better to add “Le” (related to “usted” but also to “él” and “ella”) before the sentence. Examples:

¿Le es difícil levantarse por la mañana?  Is it difficult for you to get up in the morning?
¿Le es fácil tomar las medicinas a tiempo?  Is it easy for you to take the medicines on time?
¿Le es posible asistir a terapia diariamente?  Is it possible for you to attend therapy daily?
¿Le es viable seguir esta dieta?  Is it feasible for you to follow this diet?


¿Tiene apetito?   Do you have an appetite?
¿Disfruta la comida más o menos igual como / que antes?   Are you enjoying the food more o less than the normal?
¿Recientemente come más o menos de lo normal?  Recently are you eating more or less than the normal?
¿Ha bajado o subido de peso recientemente?  Have you gained / lost weight recently?

Note: Although “igual como antes” is perfectly understandable for any Spanish speaker, it’s more accurate to use “que” when you are comparing two things: igual que, menor que, mayor que, etc.


¿Tiene dolor sin razón?  Do you have pain without any reason?
¿Se siente inquieto o ansioso?  Do you feel restless or anxious?
¿Ha notado una falta de coordinación recientemente?  Have you noticed a lack of coordination recently?
¿Le cuestan las actividades diarias como caminar, cepillarse los dientes, vestirse?  Are the daily activities such as walking, brushing your teeth or dressing difficult for you?


¿Ha pensado reciente que tal vez la vida no vale la pena?  Have you though recently that maybe the life is not worth it?
¿Ha pensado en suicidarse / quitarse la vida?  Have you thought about committing suicide / killing yourself
¿Piensa así a menudo?  Do you think like that often?
¿Ha pensado en hacerse daño / lastimarse?  Have you thought about hurting yourself?
¿Ha pensado en dañar / lastimar a otra persona?  Have you thought about hurting another person?

Study this depression screening vocabulary and phrases in Spanish with these flashcards

I put together a vocabulary list and set of notes that includes this information in an easily downloadable .pdf – Get your copy for free today!

Download Speaking Patients for Depression in Spanish Notes TODAY

Keep up the good work speaking responsible Spanish to your patients! Check out our other books, classes & products to help you learn medical Spanish!

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Active Listening, Empathizing & Summarizing Patient Complaints in Spanish

Other posts in this Mental Health series:

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4 thoughts on “Screening your Spanish speaking patients for depression”

  1. Thanks for writing out these questions, I have been looking for more natural ways to translate my counseling material for my Spanish-speaking clientele.

    One thing that its misleading is your use of “le” in the concentration category. Le is “directional” in that it is related to the verb and doesn’t simply function as a specifier for your subject. So, ¿Le es difícil enfocarse? is not correct, but “se le dificulta enfocar?” would be. In English it sounds like, “does it to you become difficult to focus?” Similar to the way that “se me olividaron las llaves en el carro” means, “the keys were forgotten unto me in the car,” rather than “I forgot the keys in the car.”

    1. Hola Gwendolyn,

      The use of “le” in this case is correct. It is a educated way to refer to “usted” without using the pronoun. You can say, for example:

          ¿Le es fácil caminar? – Is it easy for you to walk?
          ¿Le es difícil ir a su cita médica? – Is it difficult for you to attend your medical appointment?

      In Spanish we have the reflexive verbs and their meaning change depending on which one you are using and the context you are using them. “Enfocar” and “enfocarse” don’t have the same meaning, even though both means “to focus” in English. To be more precise, “Enfocar” means to focus something (a camera, for example) on something else you want to see clearly. “Enfocarse”, on the other hand, means to focus yourself on doing something specific (to concentrate).

      Making literal translations is not always recommended because they don’t always work. Following this idea, “se me olvidaron las llaves en el carro” means “I forgot the keys in the car”, but a Spanish speaker can also say “dejé las llaves olvidadas en el carro” or “olvidé las llaves en el carro”. All of them means the same.

      Hope this clarification helps!

  2. Pingback: Video Viernes - How to Evaluate Depression in Spanish using SIG E CAPS | Common Ground International Language Services

  3. Pingback: Explaining Depression Diagnoses & Treatments in Spanish

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