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Mental Health

Depression vs. the blues

We all have a blue day once in a while. Sometimes it’s caused by stress – difficulties at work, family conflict – and sometimes by grief and sometimes (it seems) by nothing at all. Is it actually depression? How can you tell?

Most people don’t realize that there are some specific differences between depression and “the blues.” Recognizing depression is important, because it can be successfully treated. Here are some ways to recognize when that might be a good idea.

  • How long has it lasted? Feelings of sadness can last a while, but depression often lasts for weeks to several years if it isn’t treated. A diagnosis of depression from a doctor requires that sadness or loss of interest in normal activities has lasted most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks in a row.
  • What effect is it having on your day? People with the blues can usually keep up with their daily schedule, but depression can interfere with a person’s ability to function effectively through the day – or even to have the energy to get out of bed in the morning after a night’s sleep.
  • Does it have a cause? Sadness is a normal and healthy emotional reaction to life’s sad events, and grieving can take time. Depression, however, can persist; it is different from simple unhappiness, lasting much longer and rendering it difficult for a person to independently raise his or her mood.
  • Can something cheerful pull you out of it? A normal reaction to life’s troubles often eases up when we do something to “pull ourselves out of it”, like reading or watching something funny, or exercising, or going outside, or helping someone else. However, people with depression often can’t fight it off. They lose interest in things and develop a “why bother?” attitude about people and things they’d usually enjoy – including friends, family, work, hobbies and interests.
  • Is it causing physical problems? Normal stress can interfere with sleep, and sad people may lose interest in food, but depression can go further than that. Depression can cause sleep disturbances, changes in appetite (causing significant weight loss or weight gain), fatigue, difficulty concentrating and decreased interest in or enjoyment of sex.
  • Is it changing how you feel about yourself? Sadness doesn’t necessarily affect our personal sense of ourselves, but depression often does. Feelings of worthlessness and excessive feelings of guilt are symptoms that point to a diagnosis of depression.

We all experience failures, which can make us feel worthless or guilty, and personal losses, which can cause feelings of sadness and grief. These are normal life experiences. But when these feelings are severe, last for weeks and start to interfere with work or social life, it might be depression.

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