Am I depressed or merely sad?

For every 100 people, 20 are likely to be depressed at any given time.  More people experience major depression than any other mental health illness.  Recognizing depression is the first step toward reclaiming your life.  Symptoms can include apathy, tearfulness, the blues, hopelessness, irritability, insomnia or excess sleeping, poor appetite or eating too much, decreased sexual libido, and negative thinking.  Women seem to accept treatment for depression quicker than men.  Causes of depression are linked to genetics, lonely or traumatic upbringing, major losses, chronic illness and current life stressors.  Certain medications can also contribute to depression such as certain heart medications. 

Because everyone feels blue at some point in life, clinical depression (major depression) needs to be differentiated from ‘normal’ depression.  It is normal to experience some symptoms of depression at stressful times, such as times of loss, job and school pressure, marital problems, or chronic illness.  These times may bring on the blues, changes in appetite or sleep, irritability, loss of interest in activities, etc. but the person is able to carry on their life tasks and work through the sadness within several weeks.

Clinical depression, on the other hand, brings more severe symptoms, functional impairment and lasts longer. It is usually obvious to family members or close friends that the depressed person ‘is not right’. They withdraw from activities that used to bring pleasure, stop answering the phone, retreat into themselves and their performance at work and in life in-general is down.  The person who is clinically depressed often has feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt and may even become suicidal if untreated.  

With major depression, therapeutic intervention is often necessary because the depressed person has such a negative perspective about their life situation that they have lost the skills or judgment to find their way out.  Psychotherapy can help someone with depression develop positive behavior patterns and replace negative baggage with a more healthy approach to life problems are key therapeutic approaches to major depression.   For many people, psychotropic medications in conjunction with therapy have been shown to produce the best results in treating major depression. 

What can you do to relieve ‘normal depression’? 

  • Talk to someone about how you are feeling; then be with people and try to engage.
  • Develop a plan to cope with the real problems at hand.  Feelings of  increased control often bring some relief.
  • Get outside, get physical, be good to your body with sleep & good food, and avoid excessive alcohol.

There are many self-help books and workbooks helpful in dealing with depression.  Some of these include:

Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression
(2008) James S. Gordon M.D.

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated
(2006) David D. Burns

Depression Fallout: The Impact of Depression on Couples and What You Can Do to Preserve the Bond
(2003) Anne Sheffield