I know everyone feels sad sometimes. I’ve been feeling sad ever since my mom died a couple months ago. We were really close and it was an unexpected death. So I think it’s natural for me to be sad. But my husband and even some close friends think it might be something more and that I should go see a counselor. They keep saying that I might be depressed. How do I know if it’s just normal "blues" or if it really is depression?
You'd be surprised how often this comes up. I regularly see people who have been feeling sad for a long time and after some discussion with me they discover that it's something more than just sadness.
Feeling sad is an absolutely normal response when someone close to you passes away. In fact, it's even a healthy part of the grieving process. That doesn't mean that you're depressed, it just means that you're responding normally to a sad situation.
Sometimes, though, that sadness can take over and then it turns into a problem in itself. In other words, sometimes the sadness that you feel about a normal situation can can be overwhelming and keep you from getting over the thing you're feeling sad about. When that happens you get stuck in the sadness and it's hard to overcome the sadness or work through the thing(s) you feel sad about.
Depression is actually called Major Depressive Disorder
The clinical term for depression in the U.S. is called Major Depressive Disorder. When people ask me if they're depressed they usually mean that they want to know if they meet the clinical criteria for this disorder. Unfortunately, there's still a lot of question about what is "normal sadness" and what is depression. So here are the key symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder (AKA depression) listed out for you:
1) Persistent feelings of sadness, guilt or worthlessness.
2) Loss of interest or pleasure in things that you normally like to do.
3) Difficulty concentrating or paying close attention to things that around them.
4) Irregular appetite. People usually eat more than usual, less than usual or a combination of both. Unexpected weight gain or weight loss is an obvious indicator of this one.
5) Irregular sleep patterns. You either sleep more than usual without feeling refreshed when you wake up or you can't sleep at all even though you're tired. You may have difficulty falling asleep or you wake up several times throughout the night.
6) Feeling tired or lethargic ("foggy") throughout the day.
7) Having thoughts that you were better off dead or that you want to harm yourself.
8) Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.
9) Loss of normal animation in your voice and body language when you talk.
Not all of these symptoms have to be present in order to meet the criteria for depression. If you're uncertain whether you have depression the best thing to do is to talk to your doctor or a qualified therapist. They can ask you additional questions to help you sort out whether you meet the requirements for depression. They can also help you overcome the feelings that you're having to help you get into a better place.
The best indicator to help you decide whether you need to see a professional or not is to ask yourself how much your sadness is interfering with your life. If you feel sad but are able to carry on at work, at home and still find the pleasure in doing things you normally do, then you may not need to see a professional.
However if the sadness is beginning to interfere with your life by making it hard for you to work or be around your kids, etc. then it would be best for you to see a qualified professional. They can help you start feeling better and get you back to living your life happily again.
Let me mention one of the biggest red flags here: If at any time you feel symptom number seven above (Thoughts that you would be better of dead or wanting to harm yourself), that's a big red flag that you're not experiencing normal sadness. If these thoughts ever come up, go see a professional right away.
Depression or sadness doesn't have to ruin your life
Nobody likes feeling sad regardless of how severe it is. Remember that no matter how sad you're feeling there are always things you can do to help yourself feel better. Going to a park, reading your favorite book, playing with your kids, etc. are great ways to help yourself feel better regardless of what you're going through.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and owner of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog RelationshipRx.net for expert information on how to improve all your important relationships.