While everybody experiences natural feelings of sadness in response to situations and losses throughout their lives, some people develop a condition called clinical depression. Although some of the feelings associated with sadness, grief and clinical depression are similar — they are not the same things.
“Normal situational depression 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 Kathleen Torres, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Scripps Coastal Medical Center, Oceanside. She says it is natural in such circumstances to feel sad, irritable, anxious, and experience a depressed mood for a while as a normal part of experiencing life events. But clinical depression is different.
Clinical depression, on the other hand, is a medical condition that may or may not have a triggering event. It is persistent, lasting more than two weeks, and presents with several additional symptoms along with sadness or depressed mood. These symptoms include:
- Changes in sleep (sleeping far more or less than usual)
- A physical slowdown
- Changes in appetite and/or weight (eating far more or less than usual; weight loss or gain)
- Feelings of inadequacy or guilt
- Difficulty thinking and concentration problems
- Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy
- Thoughts of death or suicide
“Anybody can develop depression at any age, regardless of their race, gender or socioeconomic status,” Dr. Torres says. In fact, 20 million people will be diagnosed with depression every year, and the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that between one-fifth and one-quarter of adults may suffer an episode in their lifetime.
If you suspect your or a loved one’s changed mood may be depression, talk to your doctor. “Your primary care physician will perform a thorough medical evaluation, including a personal and family psychiatric history and depression screening test and additional tests to make sure other medical problems are not contributing to depression symptoms,” says Dr. Torres. Alcohol and drug use, for example, can mimic some of the symptoms of depression, as can other conditions.
If depression is diagnosed, effective treatments are available. Check out our infographic to learn more about the signs of depression and treatment options.