All of us feel sad and upset at times. When that sadness seems to last longer than usual, or feels more extreme, you might ask yourself, “Am I Depressed?”
The question doesn’t always have a clear-cut answer, especially because the symptoms of depression can vary from person to person. But it’s a question worth considering, especially if your emotional state is making it difficult for you to function in your day-to-day life.
How Does Depression Differ From Sadness?
There are many life events that may trigger feelings of melancholy, hopelessness, or detachment. Examples include the death of a loved one, tragic global events, job loss, or the end of an intimate relationship. In those situations, it’s natural to grieve and even to do so intensely. You may feel what you’d describe as dark or depressed thoughts, and wonder if you are experiencing depression.
However, as the American Psychological Association (APA) explains, sadness caused by painful life events differs from depression in a few key aspects:
- When you are grieving, you will usually feel a mix of sad thoughts and also happy thoughts, as you recall memories of what you have lost. The grief can be powerful, but not a constant state.
- While grieving, you can still maintain your sense of self assurance and general confidence. Clinically depressed individuals usually experience chronically low self-esteem.
It’s important to note that grief can also be coupled with a case of clinical depression, or gradually move in that direction. If your grief seems to last much longer than expected, and if you experience depressive symptoms along with the grief, this is one way to tell if you’ve crossed into depression.
What Are The Symptoms Of Depression?
Clinical depression is a serious mental illness that affects your emotions, your thoughts, your body, your physical wellbeing, and your ability to carry out everyday tasks. It is more common than you might realize, affecting 1 in 15 adults each year, and 1 in 6 people at some point in their lives. But just because it’s common doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. Whether your depression is mild or severe, you should know that depression is treatable.
As you consider the question “Am I Depressed?” you may consider some of the most common — though sometimes overlooked — symptoms of the disease. These include:
- Mood changes: feelings of sadness, low energy
- Decreased appetite
- Inability to enjoy activities you once did
- Heightened fatigue
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping excessively
- Weight loss or noticeable weight gain
- Pacing, difficulty thinking clearly
- Feelings of low-self esteem and hopelessness
- Suicidal ideation
Generally, these symptoms need to last more than two weeks to be considered signs of depression. But of course, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or self-harm, it is an emergency, and you should immediately see your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room.
The APA notes that some of these symptoms may be caused by medical issues like thyroid problems, brain tumors, malnutrition, or vitamin deficiency, so it is worth getting a medical evaluation if these symptoms are new to you.
What Causes Depression?
Usually depression is caused by multiple factors at once — the perfect storm, so to speak. Sometimes extreme life events can cause depression (remember, sadness is normal after a loss of any kind, but sometimes this sadness can transform into a case of clinical depression).
Although depression can affect anyone at any time in their life, there are usually some risk factors that make a person more prone to depression. You may want to consider these factors as you ponder the question of whether or not you are suffering from depression.
Some factors that may trigger depression include:
- Brain chemistry: Differences in biochemistry may make certain people more prone to depressive symptoms.
- Genes: Your genetic makeup influences your propensity to depression. You may find that depression runs in your family.
- Temperament and personality: Negative self-image, pessimistic attitudes, and people who are easily affected by the stress of life may experience depression more frequently.
- Adverse childhood experiences: Abuse (physical and verbal), neglect, poverty, or exposure to violence or trauma during childhood can increase your likelihood of experiencing depression as an adult.
Could I Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Many people notice that their depressed symptoms seem to increase or emerge during the winter months, as sunlight decreases and the days become shorter and drearier. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real, and if you notice a correlation between the timing of your depressive symptoms and the winter season, you may be experiencing it. Symptoms of SAD are the same as those of clinical depression, and can range from mild to severe.
According to the APA, one way to tell that you have SAD is if your symptoms come on during the winter, and then dissipate — and also, if you have experienced these winter depressive symptoms for two or more winters in a row.
Treatment options for SAD are similar to those of general depression. Add more sunlight to your days by going outside as much as possible, make sure to eat healthfully (don’t rely on carbs and sweets!), stay physically active, and of course, seek the help of a licensed therapist whenever necessary.
How Is Depression Treated?
Depression itself makes it hard to believe that there is any hope of feeling better, but it’s vital to understand that help is available to anyone who needs it. The fact is, there are many options out there for the treatment of depression, and it’s possible to find an option that works best for you.
There are therapists — both online and in person — who specialize in the treatment of clinical depression, and can tailor their treatment to your specific needs. “Talk therapists” use many different modalities for treating depression, and have various approaches, experience levels, and “vibes,” so it’s worth searching until you find a therapist that you feel most comfortable with.
Because depression is sometimes caused by multiple factors, including brain chemistry, medication combined with therapy may be an option worth considering. Most therapists can connect you with a psychiatrist or MD who can guide you through the process of using medication to treat your depression.
When you first ask yourself “Am I Depressed?” it’s natural to feel uncertain, confused, and overwhelmed. Figuring out if you are experiencing depression, and what to do about it, is the first step. Remember that you are far from alone, help is out there, and you are so worth it.