Everyone goes through periods where they feel like they are skyrocketing — and ones where they feel crushed by the weight of the world. This is normal since no one can be exuberantly happy 24/7, but if you have been feeling down-in-the-dumps for a while now, it may be more than a blue season. Instead, you may actually be depressed, and it could be time to seek help for your symptoms. Here, we explore the difference between feeling down and clinical depression and some key signs it’s time to talk to a therapist. Don’t let another month — or three — go by before you seek the help you need and deserve.
The difference between sadness and depression
There are many differences between feeling ‘blah’ and being depressed, but one of the most significant ones is duration, according to therapist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. Healthy people tend to have a few bad days but recover quickly, while those suffering from depression will linger for at least two weeks and continue for months or years if left untreated. Another key differentiator is symptoms she says: “When you are feeling down, you may not be functioning as well as usual. However, when you are depressed, there is a significant amount of distress or impairment, which more severely decreases your functioning in one or more areas of your life.”
In addition, feeling down is just part of being human. People can feel at some points in their life, often in reaction to an identifiable reason or situation that has caused feelings of sadness, disappointment, hurt, and so on. These tend to go away when the cause has been resolved. “On the other hand, depression occurs on its own because of a change in mood, and is considered a mental illness which can negatively affect your sense of self, your future, and how you view the world.”
Here, some signs you are depressed:
You have little to no interest in anything
You used to enjoy your daily workout, trying out a new recipe, having a long chat with a close friend and even binge-watching a mindless TV series. But these days? You seem to have lost your interest and pleasure in any of the activities that used to bring you joy. In other words, you’re feeling apathetic, which is a significant symptom of depression, according to Dr. Thomas. “Having depression can make it very difficult to feel happy or care about even those things which typically would elicit these emotions,” she shares. “It is as if you are submerged in a heavy, black cloud which weighs you and your positive feelings down.”
You struggle to make decisions
Some people are natural-born leaders and can make strategic, calculated decisions quickly. Others may take longer, but ultimately, they land on an outcome they support. However, when you’re depressed, you may struggle to make any choices — even simple ones, like what t-shirt to wear or what route to drive to work, according to Louisa Benton, the executive director for Hope for Depression Research Foundation. “The disorder can impair your attention and memory, as well as your information processing skills,” she continues. “Incorrect predictions of the future negatively impact a decision; the pessimistic thinking and heightened sense of potential disappointment can cloud rational thinking.”
Your appetite and/or weight has changed
Benton says weight and appetite can fluctuate for people with depression. While some people may lose their appetite and drop a worrisome amount of weight, others eat their emotions aways, creating weight gain. No matter which end of the spectrum you fall, if you feel like you have zero control over what you put in your mouth, you could be battling depression.
You always want to sleep — or you can’t sleep
Similarly, when someone is depressed, they will fall into one of two camps: wanting to stay in bed all day, every day and sleeping many hours, or suffering from insomnia. “Given how important getting quality sleep is for people to operate at their best, having your sleep disrupted by insomnia or hypersomnia or both can be very damaging to your ability to function,” Dr. Thomas says.
You feel guilty every day
When you’re depressed, you don’t have a favorable opinion of yourself. This is because you engage in negative thinking patterns, and you tend to withdraw from your friends and family, causing you to feel like you’re letting them down, Dr. Thomas says. In return, you will experience intense worthlessness and guilt every day that can weigh heavily to get out from underneath. “Not only can having these feelings of worthlessness and/or guilt be a symptom of depression, but they can also perpetuate the depression and make it even worse because the person feels so negatively about yourself,” she adds.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, book an appointment with a trusted therapist or ask friends for mental health experts’ recommendations. As Benton says, the sooner you receive assistance — whether it’s through talk therapy or prescriptions — the faster you will be on the road to brighter, sunnier days.
If you are dealing with depression and needs help, you can call the NAMI Helpline at 800-950-NAMI.