Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: What is depression?
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
“I’m so depressed!” Have you ever said that … or heard a friend say it? So have I! The word, “depression,” has become such an accepted part of everyday conversation that it has the ability to water down the serious disorder of Major Depressive Episode.
I have often been asked, “How do you know if it’s depression or just the blues?” The reality is that almost everyone has felt “down in the dumps” at times – we’ve all experienced a bad day, or even a bad week! The fact is that brief periods of feeling “blue” are ways we describe feelings of sadness or melancholy. Brief periods of time like this are usually caused by life events that leave us feeling discouraged, “flat,” lacking energy, and even momentarily paralyzed. Sadness, loneliness, grief and disappointment, among others, are resulting emotions from life events – everything from a broken date to the death of a loved one or beloved pet. And yet, even though we may experience tremendous emotional distress during that time, there is a part of us that knows, with time, we will bounce back and rejoin life.
Major Depressive Episode, however, is no laughing matter. It is a potentially serious mental health disorder that ideally would require counseling/therapy, and perhaps medication as well. The quandary often comes because depression, the disorder, also has some of the same key symptoms that we see when we are merely “blue” or “down in the dumps” … wanting to eat more or having no appetite, associated weight gain or weight loss, concentration problems, feelings of overwhelm or guilt or hopelessness, but in some severe cases … thoughts of suicide.
So, let’s get to the crux of the matter … what is Clinical Depression, Major Depressive Disorder? And, what distinguishes the common “down or blah” feeling felt by most of us occasionally with true depression? Actual Major Depressive Episode is different in a couple of key ways:
- Duration — Typically, for most depressive disorders, you need to have felt symptoms during the same 2-week period consistently and pervasively, in ways which interfere with everyday functioning
- Significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of important functioning — This distress may be characterized by feelings of intense sadness, rumination about loss, insomnia, poor appetite, a sense of powerlessness and/or hopelessness, and significant weight loss or gain. These responses are present in such a degree that they interfere greatly with your ability to carry on your normal routine.
Depression can be a serious disorder, and one that can often go undetected because it can creep up on you, and you may try to “explain it away.” It does not strike all at once, but can actually be characterized by a gradual and nearly unnoticeable withdrawal from your active life and enjoyment of living and your “usual self.” Or … on the other hand … it can be caused by a clear event which has been greatly distressing and debilitating in your ability to cope. In reality, depression can either be pointed back to a “trigger”…. or…..doesn’t need a clear cause to occur – it can happen to any of us, seemingly “out of the blue.”
GREAT NEWS!! Depression is always treatable, and in most of us, also curable, by getting professional help for it right away!
Y’all — Here is what I advise when looking for a therapist. Find one with whom you receive a sense of warmth, who is easily engaging, and with whom you feel emotionally safe to tell your story. Your therapist should be a listener, more than a talker. This is, after all, about YOU. When you return for a visit, know that your therapist has done his/her “homework” and recalls easily about what your life events are and can follow up on your “story” without you having to remind them. The rapport, the sense of safety, and the fact that you believe in the knowledge and expertise of your therapist, will make the journey one which will get you back into life quickly!
So, whether it’s the blues, or whether it’s Major Depressive Episode, life just sometimes gives us hard mountains to climb. The good news is that there is always help available!!