What is depression?
We all feel sad at times. Sadness is a completely normal emotion to feel. However, our day-to-day sadness in response to normal sad or upsetting events is usually milder and more temporary than the types of feelings that would be classed as a depressive disorder.
The difference between sadness and depression is not just about the degree to which someone feels sad. Those who suffer from depression experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness and lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. Aside from the emotional problems caused by depression, individuals can also present with physical symptoms such as chronic pain or digestive issues.
If feeling sad is normal, what are the symptoms of depression?
Symptoms of depression can include:
A depressed mood for the majority of the day, almost every day. This mood might be characterised by sadness, emptiness or hopelessness.
Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities most of the day, nearly every day.
Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain.
Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping nearly every day.
Feelings of worthlessness
Importantly, these symptoms must be experienced every day for at least two weeks and the symptoms must be more intense than the normal fluctuations in mood that we all experience in our daily lives. You must have five or more of these symptoms every day for more than two weeks to qualify for a potential diagnosis.
How would I know if I had depression if feeling sad is normal?
As feeling sad is a completely normal emotion, we need to put things into perspective.
If you are feeling sad about something that has happened in your life, e.g. a family bereavement or you have split up with your significant other, then the sadness is normal. There will be events and situations in our lives that make us feel sad and sometimes the sadness associated with that event can last a long time. However, over time, the sadness will start to become easier to cope with and we can use tools to help us deal with the sadness associated with negative life events.
However, sometimes people experience sadness that is not in relation to any one singular event or life experience - sometimes people feel sad for no reason at all or sometimes we have experienced a negative life event and we are struggling to cope for a long time afterwards. It is only then that depression would be considered by a Doctor or Psychologist.
Importantly, however, a strict criteria must be met before giving out a diagnosis of depression. It is not something that we can or should be trying to diagnose ourselves with. It takes a medical professional to look at the situation as a whole and make a decision.
The most important thing to remember is:
Depression is more than just feeling a bit down or upset for a few days. Depression is a complete loss of interest in things we normally enjoy. It is a general inability to cope with our normal daily life and it is so important that we do not jump to conclusions about ourselves before we have had a professional look at the picture as a whole.
If you are worried about yourself or your child, please seek the advice of your GP.
Below is a resource on depression from the mental health charity Mind.
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