#7 – Do I have depression or am I just feeling sad?

“What is depression?”

When I ask this question of people, I get a variety of answers ranging from descriptions of feeling overwhelmingly sad to explanations of a chemical imbalance in the brain.  Depression is a word so commonly used, but there is some misunderstandings about it meaning.

First and foremost, depression is a mood.  It is a normal, albeit extremely unpleasant mood that is typically associated with a sense of loss in one’s life.  It may be loss of a loved one, loss of a job, end of a relationship, or something else.  Depression is a horrible mood and something that most (if not all) of us will experience from time to time in our lives.

Depression is more than just slight sadness.  It is an overwhelming feeling of sadness, so intense that it typically affects our day-to-day functioning.  I remember years ago when my dog died.  I was devastated.  I felt like I was walking around in a haze for days, even weeks.  I didn’t have the energy to go out with my friends and I didn’t feel I could concentrate on anything as much as I usually would.  Other times, I would feel numb.  Not sad so much as just emotionless.  It was a horrible feeling.

The diagnosis of a major depressive disorder lies in the definition of the word disorder.  In medical terms, the words disorder refers to a functional abnormality or disturbance.  So essentially, the key is context – not only context surrounding the presentation of the mood, but also context surrounding how it is affecting day-to-day functioning.  For example, feeling depressed following the death of a loved one is a different context to someone who is feeling depressed every day for weeks and months, but doesn’t know why.

Importantly, anyone who is struggling can reach out for help and support at any time.  You do not need to self-diagnose, but know there are options available to talk to people 24 hours a day such as Lifeline (13 11 14).  Alternatively, book an appointment with your GP to find out how you can access support.

If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the website at www.lifeline.org.au. If it’s an emergency, call 000.


Links to previous blogs in this series:

#1 – Introduction to series
#2 – Why do dogs wag their tails?
#3 – The developing newborn: What is normal?
#4 – Does my child have autism?
#5 – Toddlers, tantrums (and training!!)
#6 – Sigmund Freud: Who was he?