Am I Depressed?

Kristin Hall, FNP
Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP Written by Our Editorial Team Last updated 7/17/2020

Depression can be scary. Often, even saying the words, “I’m depressed” takes courage. 

Despite being one of the most widely diagnosed conditions in the world, depression can make you feel very alone. It’s a heavy, pervasive sadness that hangs over daily life. And finding relief can feel hopeless. 

If you’re concerned that you may be depressed, there is help available. You don’t have to fight this battle alone. 

What is Depression? 

Depression is a mental illness, called a mood disorder, and a common one at that. More than 264 million people worldwide are affected by depression, according to the World Health Organization

It’s a leading cause of disability, and the CDC says 80 percent of adults with depression report at least some difficulty with social, work, and home activities because of the condition.

There is no one single cause of depression — it is a complex disorder. Events in your life — like job loss or trauma — can trigger depression, but it’s also believed to have a strong biological component. 

Harvard Health reports that some genes can make people more susceptible to depression, and impact how they respond to treatment. Also, medical problems, sluggish brain cell production, imbalance of certain brain chemicals or neurotransmitters and even structural differences like the size of your hippocampus, may play a role in depression.

Types of Depression 

Major depressive disorder, or clinical depression, is the most common and pervasive type of depression, and when people talk about “depression,” this is largely what they’re referring to. 

To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, you must have experienced the symptoms for at least two weeks, causing distress and impairment in your normal functioning, and they can not be explained away by another illness or medication.

But there are other types of depression, too: 

Dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder. Dysthymia is very similar to major depressive disorder but is characterized by fewer or less severe symptoms lasting at least two years. 

Postpartum depression. This type of depression is unique to women after giving birth. Unlike the “baby blues,” postpartum depression shares the same severe sadness as major depression.

Psychotic depression. If you have depression paired with psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations, you may be suffering from psychotic depression.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is depression that generally happens in the darker, winter months. It may be accompanied by increased sleep, weight gain and social withdrawal, and returns every year. Less often, SAD may affect people in spring and summer, too

Bipolar disorder. While a different diagnosis than depression, people with bipolar disorder experience intense bouts of depression before swinging to extreme highs, known as mania. 

Symptoms of Depression

Depending on the severity and type of depression you suffer from, you may experience several of the following symptoms: 

  • Persistent and pervasive sadness
  • Pessimism and hopelessness 
  • Guilty feelings 
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities you once enjoyed 
  • Feelings of worthlessness or helplessness 
  • Moodiness 
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep 
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Trouble focusing or making decisions
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

It’s important to note: these feelings aren’t fleeting. Or, as the American Psychiatric Association puts it: “being sad is not the same as having depression.” Sadness is a normal emotion; depression is pervasive and life-altering.

Depression Treatments 

Depression is treatable, but the most effective treatment may be different from one person to the next. Consulting with a healthcare professional can help steer you towards the best starting point when you’re seeking help. Depression treatment may include: 

Medication. There are several different types of antidepressant medications. One of the more popular is a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These drugs work to increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin influences mood and sleep, among other things. 

Psychotherapy. Therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help you recognize disordered thinking that may be worsening your depressive symptoms. Also, therapy can help you work through past trauma or relationship issues that could shape your behavior and mood today. 

Electroconvulsive therapy. In use since the 1940s, “shock therapy” is still occasionally used to treat major depression that isn’t responsive to other treatment types. In other words, your healthcare provider may recommend this only after trying therapy and medications, to no avail. 

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.