Am I depressed? At some point in our lives, many of us have wondered just that. Perhaps you've found yourself unable to bounce back quickly from a career disappointment. Maybe a failed romance or perhaps the death of a loved one or a cherished pet has provoked an extreme depth of sadness, previously foreign to you and, as a result, is a little frightening. These feelings frequently surface or intensify during holidays, supposedly the season of joy. Perhaps it's the pressure to be happy during this time of year, perhaps it's because this is the time when many are counting their blessings and the "holiday blues" set in for those who feel there are not that many blessings to count.
At first, the question may strike us as silly - of course you should know if you're depressed. If you don't then who will? If we think of depression as simply being sad, or having a case of "the blues" then this view would be appropriate since you probably are the best judge of your own moods, including sadness. But of course, those of us who have questioned whether we are depressed are speaking of something other than common sadness or even profound grief. What we are really expressing concern about is whether we are suffering from a medical condition. Can our sadness be considered to have exceeded the boundary of what is normal?
First off, let's dissuade ourselves from using the word "normal." When it comes to our emotional responses, normal is such a relative term that in generally loses its meaning. For one person, the loss of a pet may be cause for a simple heartfelt tear before moving on to other concerns. For another, the same loss may result in a prolonged bout of uncontrolled sobbing and a significant grieving period.
People will respond in a manner that is appropriate for them and serves their emotional needs. Unfortunately, there is no gauge that will tell us what degree of emotion is appropriate or healthy. Nor is the expression of the emotion even an accurate measure of its intensity or so-called normality. Outward expressions of emotions, particularly sadness, are often influenced by culture, gender roles, upbringing and even heredity. Just as everyone's fingerprints are unique, so too is the degree to which we experience and are susceptible to melancholy emotions.
For this very reason, the question of am I depressed becomes a difficult and slippery one, not only for the average person, but sometimes for mental health professionals as well. Sadly, as a result, it is often ignored. Perhaps you feel your tendency to experience sorrow more deeply than the average individual is simply part of your nature and an expression of who you are. You may well be right. Ultimately, it's your call. However, if you are questioning whether you are depressed, then perhaps you should trust your instincts and at least investigate the possibility. If your particular case of the blues is resulting in prolonged feelings of hopelessness and despair, or threatening to damage your capacity to enjoy life, then it is almost certainly an indication of clinical depression.
Depressed or not, rest assured you are normal. Some estimates suggest that as many as one in four women and one in ten men will develop clinical depression in their lifetime. No one is immune to depression - it occurs in all cultures, social and economic classes. Nor is depression a sign of personal weakness - it is not something that can be conquered through sheer force of will or strength of character. Depression is among the most prevalent mental health issue in our world today. Left untreated, it can be a seriously debilitating, even life-threatening condition. The good news is that once properly diagnosed, as much as eighty to ninety percent of those who suffer from depression can be effectively treated, and nearly all people who receive treatment derive some benefit and relief from their depressive symptoms.
According to the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) of the American Psychiatric Association, the most widely accepted guide for classifying psychiatric and psychological disorders today, a major depressive episode is diagnosed by the presence of at least five of these nine symptoms during the same two-week period:
1. Depressed mood
2. Reduced interest in almost all activities
3. Unintended significant weight gain or weight loss
4. Insomnia, or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
5. Agitation or psychomotor retardation (decreased motor activity or slowed-down cognitive functions)
6. Fatigue or loss of energy
7. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
8. Reduced ability to concentrate or think
9. Recurrent thoughts of death
If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing depression, the most important thing to do is to seek professional help and if necessary, treatment. As mentioned above, the overwhelming majority of depression cases are treated successfully once properly diagnosed, commonly with anti-depressants or some form of psychotherapy or a combination of both. Help is available. We need only to seek it out.