How to Differentiate Between Feeling Low and Depression

Bajaj Finserv Health Team, Psychiatrist
November 20, 2020

Sadness is a normal feeling. In fact, not to feel low when confronted with the loss of a loved one, for instance, would be a sign of something wrong. Like the changing of the seasons, during the ups and downs of life, it is natural to experience a range of feelings, including a variety of concurrent negative emotions. However, when feelings of sadness, anger, hopelessness, and lack of interest, to name a few, persist for a long period and disrupt your daily activities, then you may be dealing with a mood disorder called depression.

According to the WHO, depression, as a mental disorder, is common. Over 264 million people globally suffer from it. Often, mental health isn’t given sufficient attention and isn’t treated on par with physical wellbeing. This is detrimental given the scale of mental diseases and the fact that depression can, in fact, lead to suicide. The good news, however, is that there are ways to combat and conquer depression. But first, it is key to know whether you are just experiencing a low spell emotionally or whether you have clinical depression.

Here is a short primer on depression to help you understand more about it, and take the necessary action.

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that is characterised by feelings such as sadness, lack of interest and hopelessness, which affect daily living. In fact, the depression definition offered by the American Psychiatric Association notes that depression negatively affects:

  • How you feel
  • How you think
  • How you act

So, if you have depression you could be experiencing symptoms such as a low mood, insomnia, and guilt, alongside the difficulty to make decisions and the drive to work and do chores. To be classified as clinical depression, these symptoms will be experienced for a prolonged period, at least 2 weeks. Moreover, the intensity of the symptoms and the type of disease may vary with depression, meaning not everyone experiences depression in the same way and not every form of depression is the same.

Here is more on the symptoms and types of depression.

Symptoms of depression

The symptoms of depression are varied and while it is a mood disorder, its effects are also found in the way a person acts. The general signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Continual sadness or a depressed, empty mood
  • Hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, and pessimism
  • Lack of interest in hobbies and enjoyable activities
  • Increased fatigue and decreased energy
  • Unusual weight loss or gain
  • Change in appetite
  • Anxiety and difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Drug or substance abuse
  • Irregular sleep patterns, lack of sleep and excessive sleep
  • Physical pains and aches
  • Reduced sexual desire
  • Irritability, anger, and restlessness

In some people, the symptoms of depression are mild. In others, they are more severe. Moreover, depression affects men, women, the young and old differently. For instance, the National Institute of Mental Health (US) notes that for:

  • Women: Depression is more common, perhaps due to biological, hormonal, and lifecycle factors and common symptoms are sadness, worthlessness, and guilt.
  • Men: Depression tends to cause fatigue, anger, irritation, loss of interest in activities, sleep problems and reckless behaviour such as substance abuse.
  • Elderly persons: The symptoms of depression, such as sadness and grief, may not be wholly apparent and other diseases may contribute to depression.
  • Young children: Depression may cause behaviours such as feigned sickness, refusal to go to school, need to always be with the parent, and thoughts about the loss of a parent.
  • Teens: Depression may cause or lead to irritation, anxiety, eating changes, sulkiness, substance abuse, and problems at school.

Types of depression

The 2 main types of depression are major depressive disorder (major depression) and persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia).

  • Major depressive disorder: It involves you experiencing at least 5 of the symptoms of depression, such as loss of interest, low mood, significant weight change, fatigue, anxiety, worthlessness, and indecision, for a period of 2 weeks. It is a severe type of depression, may involve several episodes, and one cannot simply drive away the symptoms.
  • Persistent depressive disorder: PDD is a milder form of depression, but it can cause more damage because for you to have PDD, you must have the symptoms of depression for at least 2 years. In this 2-year period you may experience episodes of major depression.

Some other types of depression are:

  • Perinatal depression: Affecting women during/ after pregnancy
  • Psychotic depression: Depression combined with psychosis, for instance, hallucinations
  • Bipolar affective disorder: Episodes of depressive lows and manic highs interspersed with regular moods
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder: In SAD, depression follows the course of the seasons

Causes of depression

The reasons for depression are varied, many and are the subject of ongoing medical research. Depression could be caused by a combination of:

  • Family history of depression
  • Childhood trauma
  • Personality
  • Presence of serious illnesses
  • Drug abuse
  • Biochemistry of the brain
  • Environmental factors like poverty

Treatment of depression

Depression treatment, medically speaking, can start once a psychiatrist or psychologist diagnoses the condition as being clinical depression. As a depression cure, a combination of medication and psychotherapy may be proposed. The medication could help with depression, anxiety, and psychosis. The psychotherapy sessions are meant to create new ways of dealing, thinking, and acting in response to negative feelings. If these are not an option, brain stimulation therapy may also be suggested.

Your healthcare professional may also suggest treatments/ methods such as:

With a medication and lifestyle modifications it is possible to fight and treat mental depression. What you do not want to do is let the condition go on for weeks, months, and years without addressing it.

If you think you have clinical depression, a good thing to do is acknowledge what you are going through and then, avoid the temptation of self-isolation. This would mean an openness to getting help from loved ones as well as assistance from a healthcare professional. For the latter, you can download the Bajaj Finserv Health app from Google Play or the Apple App Store and search for a relevant psychiatrist or psychologist near you. Then, you can book an appointment online, e-consult a specialist over video or make a physical visit to a clinic near you.

With healthcare at your fingertips, you have an easy way of knowing if what you’re feeling is simply part of the normal experiences of life or a case of clinical depression. Once you have a diagnosis done, take small but sure steps towards cure.