Do I Have Depression?
There are several common symptoms of major depression, and if you experience some of them you may be struggling with this mental health condition. The symptoms include depressed mood, changes in eating or sleeping habits, fatigue, lack of interest in activities, and thoughts of suicide. You may have depression if you experience persistent symptoms that you just can’t shake, nearly every day for a period of two weeks or more.
What is Major Depression?
Major depression, clinical depression, and major depressive disorder all refer to the same mood disorder that may also be called just “depression.” This is a mood disorder because it impacts your mood and is characterized by negative thought patterns and behaviors. Major depression is also a chronic illness, which means it is never curable, but it may come and go over the years. Chronic illnesses like depression must be treated consistently.
A diagnosis of depression may seem like bad news, but to know why you have negative thoughts and can’t shake your bad moods is a good thing. It means you can seek professional treatment and start to feel better. If you suspect you may have depression, reach out to someone to talk about it and make sure you get an evaluation and diagnosis from a mental health professional, preferably a psychiatrist.
The Nine Symptoms of Depression
According to diagnostic criteria, there are nine symptoms of major depression. A diagnosis is typically made if you experience at least five of these, but keep in mind that everyone is different. Some people may express these diagnostic criteria a little differently. For instance, sadness may look more like irritability in some people, while in others the most notable effects of depression are changes in behaviors. Ask yourself these important questions, and if you can answer yes to five or more of them, it may be time to seek professional guidance.
- Do you feel sad or hopeless nearly every day to such an extent that you feel like you can’t shake the feeling, no matter what you do? This persistent bad mood may not match your circumstances, and you may feel as if everything in your life is fine, so you should feel fine, but you just don’t.
- Have you lost interest in things you used to do, like hobbies, spending time with friends, or even just keeping your hair brushed or doing your makeup? In losing interest in normal activities, you may find that you become socially withdrawn, or that you start to perform poorly at work or school.
- Do you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep most nights or do you find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and end up sleeping much more than normal? You may be sleeping significantly more or less than is typical.
- Have you lost your appetite or are you eating more than normal? This may be significant, leading to weight gain or loss in just a week or two.
- Are you tired nearly every day and have barely enough energy just to do the things you have to do? You may feel tired for no good reason, such as lack of sleep or a lot of activity.
- Do you have a lot of negative thoughts about yourself? You may feel like you are unworthy of your friends or family, or that you have let people down and that you are a failure. You may feel a deep sense of self-loathing.
- Are you struggling to think or concentrate? This may feel as if you can’t focus on anything, even watching a TV show you normally like. It may also be difficult to make decisions or to concentrate long enough to study for school or get any work done.
- Are you agitated a lot or are you moving slowly, to the degree that other people have mentioned it to you? Depression can cause you to behave differently, either more agitated and restless or slowed down.
- Do you think about death or about suicide? It is not uncommon with depression to think about hurting yourself, to think a lot about death in general, or to think that others in your life would be better off without you.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and they persist nearly every day for two weeks or more, you could be struggling with major depression. This is not a diagnostic result, but it does indicate that you should reach out for help and speak to your doctor or a mental health professional about how you have been feeling.
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Different Types of Depression
There are also different types of depression in addition to major depression. These may cause slightly different symptoms or may occur during particular times of the year or in your life. For instance, women can experience specific types of depression related to pregnancy and menstruation. Perinatal and postpartum depression occur during and after pregnancy, respectively, while premenstrual dysphoric disorder causes depression-like symptoms just before menstruation.
Persistent depressive disorder, also known as dysthymia, is a similar condition to depression. It causes less severe symptoms, but they last for much longer—at least two years. If you have this kind of depression, you may think you’re fine because you are functioning, but dysthymia can be treated successfully so you don’t have to feel bad all the time, merely surviving. Seasonal affective disorder is a seasonal depression that affects most people in the fall and winter. It may cause any of the symptoms of major depression and can be treated effectively with light therapy.
Depression is also a component of bipolar disorder, another mood disorder that causes cycles of depression and mania. If you only experience depression, you are not likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But, if you sometimes experience manic periods that feel like the opposite of depression, you may want to talk to your doctor about bipolar disorder. The depression experienced with this condition can be a little different from major depression. During a bipolar depression episode you may be more likely to feet agitated, restless, and irritable, although it may also cause any of the typical symptoms of depression.
What to Do Next
If you feel as if you might have depression it is very important to get a professional evaluation. The best person to do this is a psychiatrist, but you can start with your general doctor if you feel more comfortable talking to him or her. A psychiatrist can evaluate you, ask you questions, listen to your answers, and observe your behaviors to determine if you have major depression or one of the other types of depression. If you don’t have a doctor you trust and don’t know where to turn, talk to anyone you feel comfortable with, like a good friend. Talking to anyone is helpful and will get you started in the right direction for getting help.
Getting help is so important, because depression isn’t something that will just go away. An episode of depression may lighten and even go away, but it is likely to recur. This is a chronic condition, and it can be treated effectively. If you get a diagnosis of depression, it should give you hope. A treatment plan, if you commit to it, will help you feel better. Just remember to be patient, because treatment takes time to work, especially medications. You may have depression, but only a mental health professional can tell you for certain, so reach out, ask for help and look for support.