Am I A Depressed Person?
By Toni Hoy
Updated February 27, 2020
Reviewer Kristen Hardin
If you're like most people, you might be able to recall at least a few times in your life when you went through an incredibly sad time. You may be able to recall some specific reasons that preceded those times. Maybe you wondered "Why am I so depressed?" Everyone feels sadness at times. It's a normal reaction to life's disappointments, problems, and occasional bouts of loneliness. For many people, there may not be a single event that triggered their feelings of sadness.
How do you know when sadness is more than just passing feelings? When is the best time to seek professional help? Depression is a mental health disorder and is currently defined as feeling sad most of the day over a two-week period and/or having a persistent loss of pleasure or interest in activities over a two-week period. There are additional clinical criteria but this can give you a start to understanding if you are experiencing sadness that will pass, or a depressive episode.
It is important to understand that a person feels depressed and may be diagnosed with depression, but is not a "depressed person". This is important because it means a person is not stuck as "depressed" and with treatment and help, they can cope with and recover from the depression. It is a condition, but does not have to be a permanent one.
If you find yourself thinking, "I think I am depressed," you should know that the signs and symptoms of depression are recognizable and that treatment is available to help you. The key to dealing with depression is to recognize the symptoms, know when to seek professional help, where to find it, and to follow through with the treatment plan.
Why Do I Feel Depressed?
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine also wanted to know why people sometimes feel depressed for long periods of time. They found that at least 10% of people in the United States will go through a major depressive disorder sometime within their lifespan.
They also determined that major depression occurs twice as often in women as in men. Stanford researchers have been able to link the main causes of depression to genetics, physical factors, and psychological factors.
While researchers remain unclear about the exact cause of depression in various individuals and what percentage may be due to genetic factors, they suspect that genetics play a role in major depression in about 40% to 50% of cases.
If you've been diagnosed with depression, there's a fair chance that someone else in your family had depression also. Barring genetic links, there might be a physical cause within your body causing it, or you might be going through an incredibly difficult emotional time.
Regardless of the cause, it's important to seek help so you can begin the appropriate course of treatment as soon as possible.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression?
Early signs of depression can begin slowly and without treatment, they may worsen over time. If you have overwhelming signs of sadness and your sadness is causing physical symptoms, you should seek help from a professional. If depression lasts for more than two weeks, that's another sign to seek professional help.
Are you having trouble concentrating? Do you keep forgetting the details of things? Do you struggle with decision-making? Do you have trouble sleeping and you're tired all the time? Do you have constant feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, pessimism, or hopelessness? Are you restless and irritable? Are you overeating or undereating? Do you have physical symptoms that won't go away even after treatment? Do you just feel blank, like a black cloud is continually hanging over your head? Have you lost interest in things you once enjoyed? Have you thought about suicide or made an attempt to end your life?
These are all signs and symptoms of depression. If you find yourself constantly thinking, "I'm really depressed," life doesn't have to be this way. Help is available. Recognizing symptoms for the depressed person is the first step to getting help.
Why Is Depression So Common?
Chances are pretty good that even though you've been to an infinite number of family gatherings, you don't recall any of the senior members of the family talking about depression or mental health challenges. That's probably not because it didn't exist back then and not because it wasn't as common as it is today.
The most reasonable assumption that depression is so common today is because we now know what we're looking for. Over the past 50-75 years, many people didn't know what it was, let alone what to call it. Even if they knew what it was, they didn't get treatment for it because treatment simply wasn't available back then.
The answer to the question, "Why are so many people depressed?" may be nothing more than the fact that we now accept the condition as a medical condition, which makes us feel freer to talk about it and see it for what it is.
When to Seek Help for Depression
First, if you or if you know of anyone who is depressed and having thoughts of harming themselves or others, they need professional crisis help now. Don't delay! Call your local suicide hotline or go the nearest emergency room right away.
Other than the above paragraph which is for a person in crisis who absolutely needs help right away, there is no exact answer for when to seek help. You can seek help as soon as you are ready and feel that you can benefit. You don't have to suffer for any certain period of time. You just need to be ready to seek help and talk to someone. If depressive symptoms are causing problems with your relationships, work, friends, or family, a licensed counselor can help.
Having feelings of depression doesn't mean that you have depression and you don't have to have clinical depression to benefit from treatment. You could be going through a really difficult time and talking to a counselor could make a big positive impact. If you want to give it some time,seek help if your symptoms don't get better within a few weeks, especially if you are having changes in your sleep, energy, appetite, focus, and motivation. Even if you don't receive a formal diagnosis of depression, early treatment can help prevent the symptoms from getting worse or going into a dark depression.
The Journey of Seeking Professional Help
You have several options. Some people start with a counselor and some start with their primary care physician. There is no single test for depression; however, there are ways that doctors and counselors can screen for depression. Usually, they start with a physical and mental health history and a depression screening. A doctor may run tests for other medical conditions that could cause symptoms of depression.
Both a doctor and a counselor will likely ask you many questions. He or she will want to know what your symptoms are, when they started, how severe they are, and how long they tend to last. Since depression is often genetic, they may want to know if other members of your family have depression or other types of mental illnesses. They will probably also ask if you've had similar symptoms in the past, how they were treated, and whether the treatment was successful. People living with depression sometimes try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol so you may be asked about that as well.
After the assessment, whether you see a doctor or a counselor, you should be given a treatment plan. A treatment plan is what it sounds like, a plan for treatment. This could include taking an anti-depressant, how often you will have therapy sessions, and specific things you will work on while in therapy. A counselor should provide you with coping skills and exercises to work on that will help to alleviate your depression. Some people only see a doctor and some only a counselor and many do both. It is your choice. Many doctors recommend talk therapy and many counselors recommend a visit to your doctor.
What Happens If Depression Goes Untreated?
If you choose to delay getting professional help for depression, symptoms could quickly get worse. Symptoms could last for months or years and cause deep emotional pain. Some people may report they get better on their own, but treatment is the recommended practice for someone experiencing depression.
It's especially important for people who are having thoughts or discussions about suicide to get immediate help from a crisis suicide counselor or a first responder. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, do not wait. It is imperative that you reach out immediately.
Seeking treatment as soon as you are ready and willing to make some changes will likely mean that your depressive episode will be shorter in length and severity.
Not everyone who is feeling depressed can make it to traditional face to face appointments. Maybe due to a busy schedule or living in a rural area. The good news is you no longer have to go to a physical office to get counseling. With BetterHelp, you can get started with a licensed professional counselor anywhere that you have an internet connection and a smart phone, tablet, or computer. You will be matched with a qualified counselor who can help you work through your depression, whether it is a depressive episode, or adjusting and coping with something that is making you feel depressed. Don't wait- reach out and get matched with a counselor today!