Medically reviewed by Susan Vachon, PA-C on January 10, 2022
Everyone feels down every now and then. But how can you tell when your temporary blues are something more? The line between sadness and depression can sometimes blur. However, there are a few ways you can tell if you have clinical depression. Check out this list of symptoms to see if you’re at risk for depression.
Your Sadness Is Lasting More Than Two Weeks
When a medical professional diagnoses depression, they use a set of guidelines found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. This manual helps to keep depression diagnoses standardized throughout the medical world.
One of the most important criteria in these guidelines is that depressive symptoms have to last for two weeks or longer.
What do we mean when we say sadness, though? Typically, it’s defined as a depressive mood that lasts nearly all day, every day. You might describe it as feeling hopeless, empty, or even tearful at random moments.
Sadness isn’t the only thing you’ll notice. You may also no longer take interest in your old hobbies, have trouble sleeping, or feel overly tired and fatigued. Problems thinking and feeling worthless are also common.
Naturally, there are varying levels of symptoms, even when it comes to depression. People with mild depression may just have a few of the symptoms listed in the DSM-5. However, those with nearly every symptom listed may be classified with more severe depression.
Nothing Seems to Bring You Out of Your Funk — And It’s Taking a Toll
It’s normal to feel sad sometimes. But unless you’re depressed, you’ll likely snap out of it after a few days. With depression, you just can’t seem to feel better no matter what you try.
For example, if you have the blues, you may be able to make yourself feel better by watching a funny video, hanging out with your friends, or partaking in a hobby. If you have depression, none of these things will change the sadness you feel. In fact, you may find your feelings are making it hard to live your everyday life.
It may be more difficult to clean up the house, meet your school or work responsibilities, or even watch your favorite TV shows. You may have problems remembering things because you feel a bit hazy all of the time. Eventually, this could have negative consequences in your life, like causing you to lose your job or affecting your physical health.
There’s No Real Reason for Your Sadness
When you’re sad, there’s likely a culprit behind your feelings. Maybe you just lost a loved one or a beloved pet. Or maybe, you just broke up with a significant other. Even something seemingly inconsequential, like a betrayal from a friend or a missed opportunity, could make you feel blue for a few days.
But with depression, there’s often no cause to your all-encompassing sadness. Sometimes depression can be triggered by an outside event, but usually, it’s attributed to a combination of factors, including changes to your brain chemistry and even certain medical problems. All of these things work in tandem to cause depression.
That’s why it’s possible to wake up one day and suddenly feel off. There doesn’t always need to be a catalyst when it comes to depression, but with sadness, there’s usually something behind your down mood.
You’re Having Suicidal Thoughts
First things first — any time you’re having suicidal thoughts please reach out for help right away. Whether it’s confiding in a loved one or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, make sure you get support from someone to help you through this.
Suicidal thoughts typically aren’t common in people with the blues. Sure, you might feel down and want to sleep the day away, but most people don’t want to end their lives as a result of their suffering. If you’re just sad, you’re still able to see that this is a passing emotion, and you’ll make it through to the other side.
However, depression can often make people think that ending their lives is the only way out of their situation. They may feel like the only way to put an end to their pain is to succumb by suicide. It’s much harder for someone with depression to realize that it will eventually get better.
You’re Losing or Gaining Weight Without Trying
Have you gained or dropped a few pounds without really noticing? Changes in appetite are a potential symptom of depression. You may start eating more than you usually do, or you may eat less because you’re not as hungry.
You probably won’t get these same feelings with the blues. Sure, you might be tempted to splurge on a meal to make yourself feel better or skip a meal because you’re too sad to eat, but it likely won’t become a habit. You’ll likely return to your previous eating habits once you start feeling normal again. With depression, these changes to your eating habits become more permanent, resulting in weight changes.
There’s also the matter that the sadness probably won’t last more than a few days — which isn’t really enough time to do damage to your waistline. But since depression can last for weeks or months, that’s plenty of time for your number on the scale to change because of your eating habits.
More Than Blue? Seek Help From a Mental Health Professional
Does it seem like your blues may be more than just a temporary glitch in your well-being? If so, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. They’ll be able to ask you more about how you’re feeling and make a diagnosis based on your symptoms.
Remember, depression likely isn’t something that will go away on its own. Taking steps to work towards treatment can help you start to feel better, sooner. A trusted professional is the best way to get a personalized mental health treatment plan so you can be you again!
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