Is it depression or just the case of the blues?

It is not unusual to deny depression when someone asks or even when you question yourself about feelings of depression. The concept of depression and the negative connotations that come along with it historically have made it “taboo.” The good news is that in today’s world it is becoming more acceptable to talk about, accept and pursue treatment.

But how do you know the difference between clinical depression and a case of the blues? When considering this question you must look to both the severity and duration of symptoms. Are the symptoms so hard to deal with that they are causing problems in everyday life (severity)? Are the symptoms present daily and are they lasting for more than two weeks (duration)? 

The following are some common signs to look for when trying to determine if you or your loved one is experiencing depression; but remember, one major difference between depression and the blues lies in the severity and duration of the symptoms:

  • Sleeping too much or not enough. (Pay attention to previously-normal sleep patterns that are now disrupted.)
  • Losing interest in activities that once brought joy (such as no longer wanting to go play cards, not having interest in the lives of loved ones or having no interest in a longtime favorite TV program).
  • Having ongoing sadness or feelings of emptiness. (These feelings seem to continue even after the original cause of the bad mood has been resolved or time goes by.)  
  • Crying daily or very frequently. (The crying may come out of nowhere with no obvious reason. Crying every day is not normal.)
  • Feeling worthless, helpless and hopeless (constant pessimistic mood, everything is wrong or their fault).
  • Increase in fatigue and decreased energy (complaints of no energy to get things done, may even move slower and have slow reaction time).
  • Problems with concentrating, remembering details and decision making. (The person may forget appointments, misplace things, defer decisions to other people and/or make financial errors.)
  • Loss of appetite or eating too much. (Look for changes in eating patterns such as skipping meals, picking at food, lying about food intake, loss of interest in cooking or previously-loved foods, weight gain or loss.)
  • Persistent complaints about aches and pains and/or problems with digestion. (Look for patterns of increased use of pain medication, increased use of alcohol and increased doctor visits.)
  • Increase in agitation and/or restlessness. (The person may be more irritable, easily angered over minor things, lashing out at loved ones, unable to relax or sit still.)
  • Talking about wanting to die or even suicidal thoughts (comments like, “I wish I was dead,” “You’d be better off without me,” “I just want to end it all” or “Soon I won’t be around.”) Keep your eyes open for behaviors that    indicate the person is going to harm himself; such as buying a gun, stashing pills or blatant comments on how he plans to follow through on ending things. If you think your loved one is serious about suicide, do not leave him alone; keep him safe until you can get him to the doctor or therapist. Or call 911 or a suicide hotline – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.

Since many people with depression are in denial, getting your loved one to agree to a doctor visit based on the chronic physical symptoms rather than the depression symptoms will allow you to also report the depression indicators and get treatment if necessary.

Kristi Vaughn, LSW

I am a Licensed Social Worker and owner of Adult Comfort Care.

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Volume 4, Issue 17, Posted 9:54 AM, 08.21.2012