Is It Just Sadness, Or Could It Be Clinical Depression?

This article gives some of the signs of clinical depression and how to tell it apart from the usual forms of sadness.
One of my screen names I use for various chat and blog programs is 'The Prozac Queen'.  It's really only half a joke; while I generally come off as a pretty positive or happy person, I've had issues with depression for as long as I can remember.  I guess you can say the brunt of it started when I was about eleven and going into sixth grade.  I was dealing with a lot of problems with friends, school, starting to like boys, puberty-the usual pre-teen angst. However, for me, it turned out to be much more than the usual pubescent 'blue period'.  It also wasn't weakness, selfishness or a lack of discipline, as some others might have thought. It wasn't a ploy to get attention. It had nothing to do with my religious faith (or lack thereof). It was clinical depression. 

As its name suggests, clinical depression is a medical disorder, caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. It is different from your average 'blue period', as Picasso called it, in that a person with clinical depression experiences an extreme sadness or lack of enjoyment in things they usually like consistently for a period of more than two weeks. Unlike the usual sadness, clinical depression doesn't generally have any 'precipitating event' -loss of a job, bereavement, a breakup, etc.  Some other characteristics are the every-day or nearly-every-day occurrence of the following symptoms:

-An unusual inability to concentrate or make decisions

-Loss of energy 

-A general feeling of 'numbness'

-Anxiety

-Marked changes in weight, appetite or sleep habits

-Suicidal thoughts or tendencies

-Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness or inappropriate guilt

It is worth mentioning that not all symptoms occur at the same time or in the same forms.  For instance, it isn't uncommon for the persistent sadness mentioned above to manifest itself as irritability or anger in some people.  It's also not unusual for a person suffering from clinical depression to have unexplained aches, pains, or muscle weakness.  This is one reason why depression can be so difficult to spot or to treat; it can be difficult to see the symptoms for what they are rather than attributing them to some other source.  

Medicine can be particularly helpful to some people with depression, although there isn't any sort of medical 'test' to tell which medications will work for which people.  Personally I've been greatly helped by Prozac (generic: fluoxetine), Paxil (generic: paroxetine) and Wellbutrin (generic: bupropion), but there are many, many others, with new medications being approved all the time.  Another essential treatment element is psychotherapy, which is available in several different forms and can give a person the tools to help themselves over time.  Many people require both aspects of treatment at the same time for extended periods.

I'm grateful that most insurance companies I've dealt with (I'm an American) cover both medication and therapy, albeit to varying degrees. It's also possible for those without insurance coverage to get treatment through various state and county facilities. For instance, I was treated for several years through the Department of Public Health's mental health services in North Carolina, with a fee scale based on my ability to pay. Many doctors and hospitals will work with patients on this basis, and several drug manufacturers have programs to help a person get the medications they need if they cannot afford them. I'm mentioning this because clinical depression often requires at least some form of treatment for several years-if not life-, and thus can get very expensive over time. 

Now you know that clinical depression is different from your average sadness, 'blue period' or 'teenage angst'. Although it can be a very complex and difficult illness to understand and to treat, more is being learned about it all the time. If you think you or someone you love might have a problem with depression, please get checked out.  Don't worry about others thinking you are weak/lazy/lacking in faith/etc; there is no shame in having an illness, which is what clinical depression really is. If someone is really your friend, they will want you to be happy and healthy, even if they don't really understand why you aren't. 

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Shannon Richey
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Posted on Apr 22, 2010
Dione Morrison
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Posted on Apr 22, 2010