Did you know that it’s estimated that almost 20 million people in the United States are ‘clinically’ depressed? And that many people that could be considered as depressed don’t know it? They don’t know that what they’re feeling isn’t normal, that they don’t have to feel this way. Clinical depression means depression that isn’t caused by a recent trauma of some kind. Severity ranges from mild to major, depending on the symptoms and the impact on the sufferer’s daily lifestyle.
What I’ve got they used to call the blues
Nothing is really wrong
Feeling like I don’t belong
Nothin’ to do but frown
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down
— Rainy Days and Mondays, The Carpenters
Depression isn’t the ‘Monday morning blues’, or having a ‘down day’. Clinical depression, whether mild or major, is a pervasive, potentially serious illness. It can have profound health consequences as well as having a great impact on day-to-day living. Severe, major depression can completely immobilize a person, even causing a complete withdrawal from daily living–or a withdrawal from actual living, in the case of suicides.
Consequences of depression can include:
- increased risk of suicide
- an increase in the production of stress hormones like cortisol
- decrease production of sex hormones and reduce sex drive
- can cause permanent memory damage if untreated
- increased risk of stroke, asthma, heart disease, cancer, pneumonia
- an elevated risk of returning to addictive behaviors such as smoking, drug use, or drinking
- aggravated feelings of anger and hostility
So, if depression isn’t just ‘the blues’, what is it? How can a person recognize that they may be suffering from actual depression so he or she can take steps to deal with it?
What depression is and isn’t
The following symptoms come from the psychiatric ‘bible’: the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the book that mental health professionals consult to diagnose mental conditions.
A mild disclaimer: I am not, nor have I ever been, a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health practitioner, or even a health practitioner. The information contained in the following articles is based solely on my own research of online and offline materials, additionally on personal experience with major depression. If, after having thoughtfully read this post, you feel you may be suffering from major or clinical depression, I urge you to seek competent help from a health practitioner.
Severe depression can be characterized by the experience of 5 of the following 9 symptoms for a period longer than two weeks, and that you haven’t experienced a major traumatic event in the last 18 months, such as the death of a loved one. In other words, it’s not just ‘feeling down for a couple of days’, and it isn’t completely caused by recent emotional trauma. In addition, in order to be classified ‘officially’ as depression, at least one of the first two conditions must be present. If at least one of those conditions isn’t present, it’s not likely that you’re suffering from depression–but there might be something else going on. That’s why it’s important to not try to deal with depression by yourself. There may be an underlying medical cause for some of the symptoms that needs to be addressed.
9 Symptoms of depression
- deep sadness or a feeling of emptiness or apathy nearly every day for the past 2 weeks or more
- diminished interest or pleasure in all or nearly all activities for the past 2 weeks or more
- a decrease or an increase in appetite, causing you to lose or gain more than 5% of your body weight
- sleep differences of more than 40 minutes from your norm, either more or less
- agitated or irritated with yourself or others, or physically moving slower than you usually do
- extreme fatigue or loss of energy
- feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt, or a feeling that you’re just not useful any more
- a diminished ability to think or concentrate, or having trouble making everyday decisions. A decrease in your ability to make sound decisions
- recurrent thoughts of death, or having seriously contemplated hurting someone else. Serious contemplation of or attempting suicide.
NOTICE: please — if you are currently having serious thoughts or plans for suicide, please, please, get in touch with a health practitioner. You can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in suicidal crisis.
In the next article, we’ll explore those symptoms in a little more detail. In later articles, we’ll discover some of the causes for depression, and some of the things that can be done to lessen or eliminate depression.