How to tell if you’re depressed or just low

Posted on Posted in Depression

We’re hearing a lot about depression. A number of celebrities and other high-profile figures have recently admitted that they’ve suffered or are suffering from this crippling disorder.

This isn’t surprising. Depression is now the most common psychological problem in the Western world, and rates are rising fast. Fortunately, treatment in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and, for more severe cases, CBT in conjunction with antidepressant medication, is highly effective – and the sooner treatment starts, the better the outcome.

But how can you tell the difference between feeling low and the beginning of true depression? Here are three questions that will help you decide whether your mood is temporary or that you may be suffering from full-blown clinical depression.

First, do your symptoms represent a substantial change from the way you usually feel? In other words, if you’re usually an active person who loves sports, have you lost interest in all sporting activities? If you normally love to socialise, do you now avoid seeing even good friends? There are no absolute levels of mood or behaviour that define depression. Instead, you need to look out for any big changes in the way you generally think and feel.

Second, are the changes you’ve noted constant and unremitting? For example, are you feeling exhausted or tearful almost all the time, or only, say, at weekends? Changes that are constant and have continued for more than two weeks suggest clinical depression.

Third, are the distressing changes you’ve noted so severe that they’re getting in the way of your ability to carry out regular daily activities and to do the things you normally enjoy?

You need to take consider specific symptoms as well. The two that clinicians look for first when diagnosing depression are changes in mood and outlook – in particular, feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and a marked loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities, particularly those you previously enjoyed.

There are other important symptoms as well, and at least five of them – including the constant low mood and/or loss of interest mentioned above – are considered necessary for a diagnosis. One common sign of depression is a change in appetite or weight even though you’re not dieting. This can manifest itself as either a decrease or a significant increase.

Look out, too, for a change in sleeping habits, either being unable to sleep or sleeping excessively.

A change in the way you move about is also a symptom – it might be constant restlessness or a marked slowing down.

An inability to concentrate or make decisions is a typical sign, as is continual fatigue and/or loss of energy. A sense of worthlessness or excessive guilt is another symptom – only, though, if you feel this way much more so than others would consider reasonable.

Based on this information, if you think you’re suffering from depression, see your GP as soon as possible. Treatment for this disorder is highly effective, and the relief will be incredibly welcome.