It can be difficult to differentiate depression from a normal episode of “the blues.” Everyone experiences the blues because of troubling events such as the loss of a loved one, job difficulties, money problems, family issues or illness. Most cases of the blues disappear quickly and do not prevent us from finding enjoyment. The key component of depression is that the pervasive feeling of sadness exists most days for a period of two weeks. Take the self-assessment quiz and see.

Such normal emotional reactions to stressful events often are diagnosed as grief (loss of a loved one) or an adjustment disorder (emotional reaction to a clearly identified source of stress, such as relationship, job or financial issues). With or without treatment, these feelings typically improve. Treatment may be helpful in developing healthier coping mechanisms for dealing with the source of grief or stress. In severe cases, these episodes could lead to major depression.

If it is a bad case of the blues, consider seeking professional help if you answer “yes” to any of the following questions:

  • Is your mood interfering with your personal relationships or your job performance?
  • Have these feelings lasted for longer than two weeks?
  • Is your stress from a single, identified stress (example: serious illness of child) that does not have a clear end in sight?
  • Are you beginning to feel worthless or guilty about the situation?
  • Is the stress not allowing you to find happiness in other parts of your life?

The Blues or Something More?

Feeling down or feeling like you’ve got the blues is pretty common in today’s fast-paced society. People are more stressed than ever, working longer hours than ever, for less pay than ever. It is therefore natural to not feel 100% some days. That’s completely normal.

What differentiates occasionally feeling down for a few days from depression is the severity of the symptoms listed above, and how long you’ve had the symptoms. Typically, for most depressive disorders, you need to have felt some of those symptoms for longer than two weeks. They also need to cause you a fair amount of distress in your life, and interfere with your ability to carry on your normal daily routine.

Depression is a serious disorder, and one that can often go undetected because it can creep up on you. Depression doesn’t need to strike all at once; it can be a gradual and nearly unnoticeable withdrawal from your active life and enjoyment of living. Or it can be caused by a clear event, such as the breakup of a long-term relationship, a divorce, family problems, etc. Finding and understanding the causes of depression isn’t nearly as important as getting appropriate and effective treatment for it.

Grief after the death or loss of a loved one is common and not considered depression in the usual sense. Teenagers going through the usual mood swings common to that age usually don’t experience clinical depression either. Depression usually strikes adults, and twice as many women as men. It is theorized that men express their depressive feelings in more external ways that often don’t get diagnosed as depression. For example, men may spend more time or energy focused on an activity to the exclusion of all other activities, or may have difficult controlling outbursts of rage or anger. These types of reactions can be symptoms of depression.

The Blues? or Depression Treatment

A combination of these symptoms taken together could mean you may be suffering a depressive disorder. The specific type of depression probably isn’t as important as going to seek immediate care for it from a trained mental health professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker. If you’re like many Americans today enrolled in a managed care plan, your first stop should be your primary care physician. But don’t stop there! Many general practitioners think nothing of prescribing an antidepressant medication for depression without any further referrals or treatment recommendations. Yet, the research is clear that medication should always be considered in addition to (not as a substitute for) psychotherapy.

Depression doesn’t need a clear cause to occur — it can affect any of us out of the blue. Depression is debilitating and sometimes even life-threatening. But depression is always treatable and, in most people, curable by getting help for it right away. If you believe you may have a depressive disorder, consider going to a local clinic for a depression screening. If the screening day has passed, consider seeking a professional’s help anyway. It is a quick and relatively painless process that can result in your starting down the path to recovery.

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