“I don’t need help! I don’t need antidepressant medications. I don’t need counseling. I just need more will power.”
It is a myth that people can relieve their depression by just trying harder to “get over it”. Yes, negative thinking can make it worse and positive thinking can help. And yes, it is “normal” to get depressed sometimes. So what is the difference between a normal reaction to something and having depression that needs intervention?
Comparing Sadness to Diagnosable Depression
To understand the difference between a normal sad reaction to a recent event and an exaggerated response that would be considered Major Depression and may need help, let’s look at the following visuals.
This graph represents normal ups and downs in our moods. Sometimes, we have good days. Other days may be bad days.
There is an expected emotional reaction to things that happen in life. If someone cuts you off in traffic, you might be irritated. If your dog dies, you would feel sad for a short while. You would have a hard time, but gradually get over it. However, if your highs tend to be higher or your lows are lower or last longer (like the graph below) or you have a hard time pulling out of it, you might have a mood disorder that needs help.
Diagnosing Major Depression
In diagnosing Major Depression, a counselor or doctor will consider many factors, including:
- family history of mental health issues (checking for a genetic basis of depression).
- the patient’s own personal history. Have there been multiple episodes of mood disturbance? Are there noted triggers or can it come out of the blue? Does the patient seem to have a hard time pulling out of a depressed mood once they’re in it? How much does the mood affect the person’s life? If it’s affecting relationships, responsibilities or self-care, if they are preoccupied with death – these are all indicators that this is not just a bad mood the person will get over.
In addition, a diagnosis of depression can be mild, moderate or severe. People can function with it daily or find they cannot function at all. There is also a diagnosis called Dysthymia, which a low-grade chronic depression that can last for years; a feeling of blah, not significantly depressed but just not happy for a long long time.
Not everyone who feels sad needs help getting over it. But if the depression symptoms listed above sound familiar, it might be time to ask for help and some guidance working through it.