“Do I have depression?”
That’s a common search phrase on Google. More and more these days, as awareness of depression is on the increase, people who are afflicted with or experiencing symptoms of depression are taking proactive steps to seek diagnosis and treatment.
What are the symptoms of depression?
How is depression diagnosed?
Is depression curable? How is it treated?
These are the questions we’ll tackle in this article, as we look at depression and the road to recovery.
Is depression really a legitimate condition? What is the global effect of depression?
For the longest time, the phrase “depressed” referred to feeling “sad,” “blue,” “down and out.” It still can, in various circumstances. But these days depression is widely associated with a clinical condition or mental health diagnosis. And rightly so.
Nearly 7% of adults in the US either have depression or have experienced at least one major depressive episode. Some more facts & figures about depression:
- 1 million adolescents have experienced major depression (19% of all girls and 6% of all boys)
- Women are more likely to experience depression than men, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with a 8.5% rate of depression among females vs. 4.8% among males
- Adults ages 18-25 are most at risk for depression (11% rate), while older adults over 50 are the lowest risk at 5%
- Having one episode of depression puts you at risk for additional episodes or extended battles with depression
- Globally, depression affects more than 300 million people of all ages – according to the World Health Organization (WHO) – the equivalent of 4.4 percent of the global population… this makes depression the leading cause of disability worldwide
Here we’re talking about depression that is clinically diagnosed… or can be. It’s a big deal, to say the least.
What’s the difference between feeling “sad” or “depressed” vs. having depression?
According to Dr. Guy Winch, the differences between sadness and depression are pronounced yet often misunderstood. In a TED Talk, Winch speaks to “how people struggling with depression are often expected to ‘snap out of it,’ and are told ‘it’s all in your head,’ or ‘choose to be happy!’ Such sentiments reflect a deep misunderstanding of depression. It only makes the person with depression feel worse.”
Sadness: We all feel it at some point
Sadness is an emotion. It can happen to anyone. At one point or another, each and every one of us feels sadness. Yes, some experience it more than others. Some people are prone to crying more, e.g. crying at sad movies or being more sensitive to disappointment. Sometimes we feel sad when experiencing change, especially when that change is sudden and perceived as “loss” (breakup, loss of a job, team losing the big game, etc.).
The key to understanding sadness is to recognize that it is:
- Usually triggered by a “difficult, hurtful, challenging or disappointing” event
- Something that we feel sad about
- Bound to go away in a matter of time (especially once we adjust to the new reality, as humans are built so well to do)
If you see a loved one or friend experiencing sadness, i.e. they are crying or appear to need consolation over a specific event, you can do well by asking “What’s wrong?” Then listen to what they have to say. He or she might just give you a “nothing in particular, I just needed a good cry.” Or you might get news of a sad event.
It’s also possible that you could get concerning feedback from the person who appears to be sad – verbal or nonverbal cues and signs that this might be something beyond garden variety sadness.
Depression: More prolonged and intense, something much deeper than everyday sadness
Depression can be said to be an “abnormal emotional state.” Don’t let the word “abnormal” throw you off, though; there’s no reason to feel shame or have a stigma attached to depression. We’ve already established that a significant portion of the population experiences depression at some point in their lives. Guy Winch calls it “a mental illness that affects our thinking, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors in pervasive and chronic ways.” He cites the following as depression symptoms to be on the lookout for:
- A depressed or irritable mood for an extended period of time (like, a lot of the time!)
- A loss or decrease of pleasure or interest in most activities
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Disturbances in sleep patterns (too much sleep or not enough, or difficulty falling or staying asleep)
- Feeling tired, sluggish, and having low energy most days
- Feeling restless
- Having feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt most days
- Prolonged difficulty in thinking, focus, concentration, creativityand the ability to make decisions
- Having thoughts of dying or suicide
If you are experiencing a number of these symptoms yourself, there is no shame in seeking help. On the contrary, the decision to get a proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment is a sure sign that you want to get better! What are the steps to getting a diagnosis?
Diagnosing depression: Not just a simple matter of online quizzes and quick fixes!
“Google is your friend.” That’s what the kids like to say these days. But Dr. Google isn’t really your friend all the time – in fact, it could be your frenemy! Search engines are a valuable tool to find information in a general context. If you wanted to know more about depression, for example, you could run keyword searches for “depression,” “what is depression,” “how to treat depression,” etc. Those will give you a better idea of what depression is all about. If you’re in Ottawa and Googled “depression,” you might even have landed on this page as a result!
But Googling phrases like “do I have depression” could land you in some… interesting territory. By now you may have seen “quizzes” and “self assessment” tools that purport to tell you whether you have depression. Okay, they make some effort to be vague about it, then give you a “score” along with a “recommendation” that you may want to seek help. How effective are these tools? They range from “okay as a starting point” to “downright dangerous.” In other words, don’t take these online depression diagnoses as gospel.
If you think you (or someone you know) may have depression, the best next step is to seek professional advice. Find a trained, qualified and experience therapist or counsellor near you. Set up a session or two, get a feel for their therapeutic style, and begin the process of formulating a diagnosis and treatment plan.
A good therapist will be thorough in the steps he or she takes before reaching a diagnosis. Any therapist or counsellor of merit will also let you know if she or he feels that you do NOT have depression. You might have experienced a significant loss recently, for example, or otherwise be going through a period of sadness. If that’s the case, the therapist may give you some tools to cope with the sadness, grief, etc., and/or refer you to support groups or other resources.
Whatever the diagnosis may be, you have the right (and responsibility, in fact) as a patient to ask questions and take an interactive, proactive role in the process.
In cases where depression is diagnosed, the counsellor will then advise you of her or his opinion on how best to go about treating the depression in your specific case. This is the time for you to ask more questions and make sure you’re comfortable with the prescribed course of action. Treatment for depression can involve:
- Talk therapy
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- Homework (reading, exercises)
- Group sessions
If you’re not comfortable with any of this, ask more questions – and remember you always have the option of finding a different therapist. Better that – by far – than leaving therapy altogether.
It’s also not uncommon for depression to be diagnosed comorbidly (at the same time) with other mental health issues. Anxiety is the most common, as depression and anxiety often go hand in hand. We’ve previously published an article about depression and anxiety, which you can read here. The important thing is not to feel overwhelmed with the diagnosis/es you receive, as their sole function is to identify your collective symptoms & history in order to develop a course of action for treatment.
Capital Choice Counselling – a Network of Therapists Treating Depression in Ottawa
At Capital Choice Counselling in Ottawa, we offer a network of therapists and counsellors who specialize in treating depression and many other mental & emotional health issues. We can help you find the right therapist – one who’s near you with the most convenient hours for your schedule, and of course someone who has the experience, ability and compassion necessary to diagnose and treat you effectively. Contact us today to get started on your journey to emotional healing.