What is Depression? How Do I Know if I Have it?
Depression is a word that we hear used a lot these days. People use it frequently in conversation – “I feel so depressed today,” “my brother has depression,” “we have a history of depression,” etc. Where once people were sad, now they are depressed. Being depressed does not carry with it the stigma it used to have, but there are still many people who resist being categorized as depressed because it makes them feel as though they have some kind of mental illness. So let’s define the word depression.
What is Depression?
One of the definitions listed in the Merriam Webster dictionary for the word “depression” is “ a state of feeling sad or (2) : a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.” When someone loses interest in activities, experiences interrupted sleep (or limited sleep), we often say that they are depressed.
Depression as an Illness
Depression is an illness that affects the mind, body and mood. People with depression don’t just experience feeling low; it affects everything they do. For example, a person who feels blue may have just suffered a rejection or had someone break up with them. They might have lost a job, or feel unable to cope with some demands on their time. But these are temporary – eventually, the sufferer will begin to see that life isn’t so bad, and start to feel better.
Depression is different. It can take over a person’s life – sleep, eating habits, activities, loss of enjoyment – these are all affected. People with depression cannot just get over something. When people tell them to “pull themselves together,” they aren’t able to. Life can feel hopeless for people suffering with depression. They feel sad, anxious, or empty; they are often weighed down by feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or helplessness. They may suffer from insomnia or disrupted sleep or oversleeping, which can lead to feelings of fatigue. They may have difficulty concentrating or making decisions. Many physical problems can be associated with depression – headaches, digestive issues, chronic pain that does not respond to treatment. They may overeat or not eat at all. They may lose interest in activities or sex – things that they once found enjoyable are now difficult or uninteresting. If depression is severe enough, it can lead to thoughts of suicide or actual suicide attempts.
How Do I Know if I Have Depression?
Take this quiz, developed by Dr. Ivan Goldberg, to help you determine if what you are feeling is depression, or just feeling down. Using the last seven days, answer each of the following statements. For each statement answer “Not at all,” “only slightly,” “partly,” “quite a lot,” “a lot,” or “to a great extent.”
- Little interest or pleasure in doing things.
- Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless.
- Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much.
- Feeling tired or having little energy.
- Poor appetite or overeating.
- Feeling bad about yourself – or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down.
- Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television.
- Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed.
- Thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself.
- If you’ve had any days with issues above, how difficult have these problems made it for you at work,
home, school, or with other people?
- I feel guilty; I feel like I should be punished.
- I feel empty; more dead than alive.
- I feel like a failure.
- My sleep is disturbed: too little, too much or disturbed sleep.
- I wonder HOW I could commit suicide.
- I feel confined and imprisoned.
- I feel down even when something good happens to me.
- I have lost or gained weight without being on a diet.
If you found yourself answering “a lot” or “to a great extent,” you are most likely suffering from depression. However, you should consult a counselor or someone trained in diagnosing and treating depression to confirm it, and to determine next steps in treatment.
There are several principal types of depression as defined in the DSM-5, the diagnostic tool for the psychological community. They include major depression, dysthymia, and bipolar disorder.
Hope for Depression Sufferers
Depression does not have to be a life sentence. Studies have found that depending on severity, outcomes can be positive with a combination of therapy and medication (if needed). If you are looking for help with your depression, as a Christian counselor I am here to help you heal and find peace.
“Joy,” courtesy of Dr. Wendy Longo, Flickr CreativeCommons; “Rest,” courtesy of Neil Williamson, Flickr CreativeCommons; “Resting place,” courtesy of Christian Reimer, Flickr CreativeCommons