How to Tell the Difference Between the Blues and Major Depression

You might feel sad. Really sad, in fact. Lately, you might feel like you’ve only been feeling sad, and the days go by without much changing, other than the fact that you seem ever slightly more tired with each passing day, and you’re not sure what’s going on with you. Chances are you’ve heard of depression, and how rates are rising, and you wonder if that’s what’s happening. Could you be depressed? Is this what it’s like?

The answer to the question is that only a medical professional can diagnose you with a mood disorder, including major depressive disorder, or “clinical depression”. But is it possible to tell the difference between a “normal” kind of sad and the kind that means you should probably visit a professional?

For the most part, yes. There are plenty of differences between the textbook definition of depression and sadness. But the reality is that no matter how this post makes you feel, if you’ve been sad for a while, you need to go see help. It takes a face-to-face conversation, some questions, and possibly a test to determine if you might be struggling with depression. Here are a few things you should ask yourself beforehand.


Is There A Cause?

A mood disorder is often triggered by a certain event, but sometimes it just kicks into gear for no reason at all. If you’re starting to feel happy even after being diagnosed with depression, there’s also a pretty good chance that it can come back out of nowhere, as well.

While not all mood disorders are chronic, many of them are, including persistent depressive disorder. That means they’re recurring, and treatment is about helping you build the tools to recognize the illness and cope with it throughout a lifetime, keeping it at bay while you live a good life.

Chances are if you’re tired, sad, and incapable of smiling for no reason at all, something has to be really wrong, or you might just not be honest with yourself and your feelings. It can take a while for the brain to catch up with the heart, so consider if you have anything to feel sad about, and if not, strongly consider seeking help.


Is It Interfering with Your Life?

People who treat depression are not in the business of making sadness look like illness. That includes the kind of sadness that means you might have to take a break from school or take a few days off work. It’s especially normal to grieve if you’re struggling with the loss of a loved one, or if you’ve been keeping too much stress at bay and finally feel it all going out of control.

But these feelings pass. It’s unusual to struggle with such a severe, debilitating level of sadness for weeks at a time. If you’re feeling incapable of continuing with basic tasks and find yourself stuck in bed every day struggling to come up with a reason to get out from under the sheets, then you may need help, even if you aren’t struggling with depression.


How Long Has It Been?

Sadness doesn’t usually go on uninterrupted for very long, and while it’s normal to feel sad for days when grieving, it’s also normal to feel a mixture of emotions, including rage, or confusion, or dull pain, or even happiness over small memories that bring a smile to your face, for even just a moment.

Uninterrupted sadness for any longer than two weeks warrants a visit to a professional for a checkup. Longer than two weeks is the minimum for a potential depression, and it’s important to catch these things early, as it gets harder and harder to ask for help as the days and weeks go by.


Do You Struggle to Feel Happy?

One aspect of depression is that when you’re deep in the hole, you experience what is called anhedonia – the inability to feel pleasure. Things don’t matter to you anymore, hobbies that you used to enjoy are beginning to lose any resemblance to fun, and you’re simply not interested in having any kind of a good time.

You struggle with pleasure even in its simplest form, and your depression manages to push you to see something negative in everything, and in every moment. It’s excruciating to live through, and a definite sign that something is seriously wrong.


It’s Healthy to Feel Sad Sometimes

Again, it’s important to reiterate that sadness and depression are different things. It’s also okay to say you’re “depressed” and not mean that you’re struggling with depression. Psychiatry is not on an organized mission to eliminate anything that deviates from “normal thought”, and it isn’t in the business of saying that grief and sadness are bad.

Depression is real. It’s a mental disorder that affects millions of Americans, detrimentally affecting their livelihoods, their relationships, and their longevity. It correlates to a number of different mental and physical illnesses, including lifestyle-related diseases, addiction, heightened anxiety, and suicide. People with depression feel overwhelmingly hopeless and emotionally stuck, often for no reason, going from a high and happy mood to completely bleak apathy in less than a day. And thankfully, it can be treated.


How to Get Help for Depression

If you or your loved one is struggling with anything you might define as depression, you need to go see help. A diagnosis is the first step towards identifying effective treatment. It doesn’t always just help to hit the gym, eat better, ask help from family or seek God. Sometimes, people who are depressed are encouraged to go seek a single solution, and when that fails, their fears and negative thoughts are reaffirmed.

Treatment is complex and depends entirely on the individual. Some people respond to treatments differently, which is why various methods are approved and can work to help with depression, from talk therapy to antidepressants, to transcranial magnetic stimulation, and more.

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