As part of our every day lives, everyone has times when they feel down, less optimistic, or even sad. Oftentimes people will credit these feelings of sadness or lethargy to the onset of depression. But it's important to understand that medical and mental health professionals have specific indicators that they use to make a diagnosis of clinical depression.
So, what does "clinical" mean? By definition, a condition is clinical if it is “directly observed.” That is, the professional does not count on a patient's self-report, but is more likely to check for symptoms of depression that can be observed and documented.
“Clinical depression” is used to describe a condition serious enough to require clinical (professional) and possibly pharmacological intervention. Clinical depression, according to medical sources, lasts more than two weeks and is usually not precipitated by anything external.
Let’s say you’ve just been laid off from your job and you’re broke. You may feel stressed, anxious, panicked, even unable to function. But, most of your friends and family would most likely reach the reasonable conclusion that it’s quite normal to feel this way. Although your reaction might match the symptoms of depression, it was preceded by a traumatic event thus your state of anxiety would not be diagnosed as clinical depression.
Clearly, a new and better job would probably end these feelings of anxiousness in no time.
Depression Often Misunderstood
There are a surprisingly high number of people who are struck by major depression in the U.S. each year: more than 20%. And few diseases are as misunderstood by the general public as clinical depression.
We misuse terms that describe symptoms of depression every day—"Wow, he's like totally manic," or "The boss is going bipolar again," or "It's understandable you're depressed...your cat just died." These people might be suffering from major depression, but with no further information about their life-events, family history, and other symptoms, terms such as manic or bipolar are simply labels of our modern culture.
It’s important to understand that people who suffer from depression are not “just sad,” “weak,” “need to ‘just get over it,’” or “grief-stricken.” While grief has been considered to be one of the causes of depression, grief (the act of grieving) is often appropriate and healthy, and is not a sure indicator of depression.
(Further, grief is not just about the impact of the death of a family member or friend. Many people grieve when they lose pets, go through divorce, lose a job, and other life events.)
The various types of depression are very distinct, but they all share a common set of symptoms. Diagnosis oftentimes is dependent upon the number of symptoms present, and how severe they are.
Symptoms of Depression
Exhaustion/lack of energy
Feelings of shame and/or guilt
Suicidal thoughts or acts
Feelings of “emptiness”
Pessimism about the future
Low sex drive
Mental impairment (difficulty concentrating, loss of memory)
Not ALL depression sufferers experience ALL of the above symptoms but if you experience most you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Some depression sufferers describe the feeling as a
complete lack of joy, even lacking the enjoyment they used to get from certain favorite activities. Most often a strong sense of hopelessness and helplessness is felt.
Possible Causes of Depression
The causes of depression are varied. There is not a single medical explanation for depression, often more than one of the following contribute:
Chemical imbalances in the brain
Those with chronic pain or illness, or those who abuse drugs or alcohol are also higher risk factors for depression.
It is not known with certainty the causes of depression, whether they be personal experience, biochemical imbalances or both. Therapy and drug treatments are both considered successful. Often times, a combination of the two provides the long-term relief that the sufferer is looking for.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most widely used for depression. It is simply a talk-through type session with a licensed mental health counselor. The counselor works one-on-one to teach you new ways of approaching the stressors in your life. This is usually done with a series of sessions over weeks or months where he/she shows you better ways to use your own self-talk and thinking to overcome your depression.