Everybody experiences periods of sadness from time to time. It’s usually in response to a stressful or painful event. Feeling sad does not mean you have depression, however. They are not the same thing.
“Sadness is a natural emotional reaction to painful circumstances or a loss, such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job or a divorce,” says Arta Shirkhodai, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Vista.
It’s normal to feel sad, irritable, anxious and experience a depressed mood during a difficult time. But these feelings usually go away, he says. Depression, also known as clinical depression, is different. It is more serious.
Depression is a medical condition with several more symptoms in addition to feelings of sadness. It should always be taken seriously because symptoms are more constant and can affect overall health and quality of life. For example, it can raise the risk of heart disease. It can make it hard to manage a chronic condition, such as diabetes.
A primary care provider can diagnose depression and prescribe medications. For more complicated cases, they may refer a patient to a mental health professional for treatment.
To be diagnosed, symptoms of depression must be present at least two weeks. Symptoms may include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness
- Changes in sleep, sleeping too much or less than usual
- Changes in appetite, eating too much or less than usual, weight loss or gain
- Fatigue, lack of energy
- Feelings of inadequacy or guilt
- Trouble thinking and concentrating
- Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Aches or pains without clear physical cause
Depression often begins in adulthood. Nearly 5 percent of adults in the United States experience regular feelings of depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“But anybody can develop depression at any age, regardless of their race, gender or socioeconomic status,” Dr. Shirkhodai says.
With children, they are more likely to have an additional mental disorder, according to the CDC. Symptoms in teens may include drug or alcohol use and suicidal thoughts. Any suicide talk should be taken seriously. Seek help right away.
The exact cause of depression is not entirely known. It may be triggered by an imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Studies have shown that it runs in families and is often triggered by a stressful event and lack of social support.
Effective treatment is available for children, adolescents and adults who suffer from depression. Professional counseling, medications — including antidepressants — and family education can help manage the condition.
If you suspect you have depression, talk to your doctor.
“Your primary care physician will perform a thorough medical evaluation, including a personal and family psychiatric history, a screening and additional testing to make sure other medical problems are not contributing to depression symptoms,” says Dr. Shirkhodai. Alcohol and drug use can mimic some of the symptoms, as can other conditions, he adds.
If you’re hesitant to seek treatment, talk to a friend or loved one or someone else you trust. If you think you might hurt yourself, call 911.
Many people experiencing depression are reluctant to seek treatment. They may be embarrassed to talk about it. They may view their symptoms as a weakness or flaw even though it is a medical illness with effective treatment. Often it is family, friends or co-workers who recognize that a problem exists and encourage seeking treatment.