What is depression?
How do you know if you are depressed? Depression symptoms can take the form of the following:
- significant changes in your appetite and/or sleep,
- low energy,
- decreased ability to focus,
- increased feelings of restlessness,
- a lack of enjoyment or interest in things that used to be enjoyable to you,
- an overall slowing of movement and speech, irritability,
- decreased sense of self-worth,
- feeling hopeless and helpless,
- thoughts of death/suicide, as well as
- physical discomfort without clear medical cause.
As you can see these symptoms of depression especially when you experience more than one of these symptoms at the same time would be highly disruptive to you life. As noted in other articles, what makes something a diagnosis is how much it impacts your functioning. As such, depression is not the same as sadness or feeling blue. If you are depressed, you have feelings of sadness or low mood for more than two weeks, but being sad does not mean you are depressed as you can feel sadness and not have significant impairment in functioning.
Types of Depression
Clinical Depression versus Situational Depression
Situational depression means that you can pinpoint that something is happening in your life that is leading to feelings of depression, such as job loss, going through a divorce, caring for an elderly parent. Clinical depression means that even if everything in your life is going well you still feel depressed. This speaks to the biochemical nature of clinical depression. Clinical depression is also often referred to as major depressive disorder or major depression. Because of this difference, I often have found situational depression more easily treated through therapy, while clinical depression is most effectively treated by a combination of therapy and medication.
Seasonal affective disorder or SAD
With seasonal affective disorder, your mood tends to decrease in the late fall and into the winter with relief coming in the spring and summer. People with seasonal affective disorder are impacted by the amount of daylight. Essentially this means that less light equals decreased mood.
Dysthymia can be thought of as a depression of a less intensity than clinical depression/major depression. Another defining feature is that the symptoms must last for at least two years.
With bipolar disorder there are two poles within which people with this disorder vascillate at varying speeds and intensity. One end is depression of varying degrees- either severe such as in major depression or at a more moderate level. On the other end is mania which can present as euphoria, but can also present as intense irritability. The severity of the mania also varies, such as from full blown mania which often has self-destructive behaviors such as compulsive shopping or gambling, feeling that you do not sleep, being overly task oriented, such as deciding to paint your entire house in a night or even promiscuity. The end is called hypomania, which means a lesser form of mania. This type of mania does not tend to impact people's’ lives as significantly.
After women give birth it is common due to hormonal shifts, sleep deprivation, and the stress of adding a baby into their lives for women to experience a drop in mood referred to as the “baby blues”. This typically passes within two weeks. Postpartum depression is much more significant than this. The symptoms are as severe as with major depression and the symptoms persist for more than two weeks. This can leave a woman tearful, exhausted, and very sad.