How To Know If I Have Clinical Depression Symptoms

Updated July 02, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers

For many people, grief over the loss of a loved one is their first brush with depression. Most anyone can have a short period of depression. If you’ve just found out that you have a serious illness, you may experience depression. Those who have a thyroid problem may experience a bit of depression due to hormonal changes. A bad breakup or divorce can bring on depression symptoms. You’ll be happy to know that none of these situations necessarily leads to clinical depression. However, if your feelings of sadness start to go deeper and darker, and it last for months, you may have clinical depression symptoms.

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The only way to know for sure is to have an evaluation by a therapist. No one has to suffer from clinical depression because it’s a mental health disorder where treatment can be quite effective.

Learning More About Clinical Depression

The symptoms of depression range from mild to severe, and they can be temporary or long-lasting. Clinical depression is also referred to as major depression or major depressive disorder, and it’s a more severe type of depression than temporary sadness that doesn’t prevent you from participating in your daily activities.

Clinicians rely on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association for the criteria to diagnose someone with clinical depression symptoms.

Depression symptoms must be present for at least two weeks to be considered clinical depression. Clinical depression is a serious mood disorder because it interferes with normal functioning. People with depression experience symptoms that affect how they feel, think, and handle their daily lives. The symptoms of depression often interfere with sleep, diet, and work.

Certain types of depression develop under specific, unique circumstances.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

A persistent depressive disorder is also called dysthymia. This type of depression requires the presence of symptoms of depression that last for at least two years. The persistent depressive disorder causes symptoms that alternate with major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms. This diagnosis holds as long as the symptoms continue for at least two years.

Postpartum Depression

After a woman gives birth, her body goes through hormonal swings. The changes in hormone levels can create depressive symptoms or anxiety in some women. The symptoms, which are commonly known as the baby blues, are usually mild and disappear after about two weeks as the body returns to normal. For some women, the hormonal levels don’t automatically stabilize. Postpartum depression can turn into clinical depression, making it difficult for new mothers to care for themselves and their babies.

Psychotic Depression

Severe depression can sometimes be accompanied by psychosis. Psychosis symptoms sometimes have a theme, such as delusions of poverty, illness, or guilt. People with psychotic depression have fixed beliefs, including delusions, where they hear or see things that others can’t.

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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Another type of unique depression is a seasonal affective disorder or SAD. People with depression where symptoms only appear during winter months when there is less natural sunlight may be diagnosed with SAD. The symptoms nearly always disappear during the warmer months.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a bit different than clinical depression because it’s mixed with periods of euphoria. The depression part of bipolar disorder meets the DSM criteria for depression, which is called bipolar depression. The depression alternates with extreme highs called mania, or hypomania.

Learning More About the Symptoms Of Depression

People with depression have symptoms that cause problems in their relationships and can cause serious problems in other areas of their lives, such as at work or school. Clinical depression doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone, from young children to senior citizens.

If you notice any of the following symptoms of depression in yourself or someone else, it’s best to get a mental health evaluation.

  • Feeling extremely sad, teary, empty, pessimistic, or hopeless
  • Being angry, irritable, frustrated, even over small things
  • Losing interest in things you normally enjoy
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Feeling tired, having no energy, feeling fatigued most days
  • Lack of appetite, weight loss or weight gain
  • Feeling anxious and restless
  • Sluggishness in thought or movements
  • Blaming self, feeling worthless
  • Can’t think clearly, trouble with focus and making decisions
  • Thinking about death, having suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Having unusual aches, pains, or digestive problems

Despite the seriousness and severity of clinical depression symptoms, the prognosis to treat depression is good. Most people improve with psychological counseling. Some psychiatrists also recommend adding an anti-depressant medication, but these medications can come with side-effects, which can sometimes be serious.

Are Certain Populations More At Risk For Clinical Depression?

According to the Anxiety Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety and depression disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Around 40 million adults, or just over 18% of the population, have some sort of anxiety disorder; yet, only about 37% of those that suffer from it take steps to treat depression. Depression may result from a variety of things, including genetics, individual brain chemistry, personality, or life challenges.

Depression may accompany other health serious health conditions like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or Parkinson’s disease. Clinical depression symptoms can make physical conditions worse. Medications that people take to cure physical conditions may have side-effects that cause or contribute to clinical depression symptoms. For complex medical and mental health conditions, it’s best to work with a physician that has experience in treating complex conditions.

The main risk factors for clinical depression are having a family history of depression, dealing with major life changes that cause stress, and having certain physical illnesses that require medications.

How To Treat Clinical Depression

Perhaps one of the best-known things about clinical depression is that, with the right treatment protocol, even the very worst cases of clinical depression are highly treatable. At the same time, it’s important to consider that there’s no single treatment for clinical depression that works for everyone. Many sufferers of clinical depression find that it takes a bit of trial and error before they find the treatment modality that works best for them. People with depression that seek treatment early, when symptoms first present, have the best chance at a successful recovery.

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Most often, the treatments for depression are psychotherapy, medication, or both. There are some other types of treatments like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which is a brain stimulation therapy that some people consider when nothing else seems to be working. Johns Hopkins cautions that ECT can cause memory loss.

Herbal and alternative medications may help reduce symptoms of depression. However, just because they’re natural supplements doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re safe to use. People that have depression should review all dietary supplements and non-prescriptive medications that they’re taking with their medical providers. Certain natural supplements can have dangerous side-effects when combined with certain prescription drugs. Some of the natural or botanical supplements are currently being studied for their potential benefits in treating depression. To date, none of them have been approved for safe routine use.

Psychotherapy For Clinical Depression Treatment Has Proven To Be Effective

The National Institute of Mental Health offers reliable information on psychotherapy for clinical depression. Therapists may use one approach and add elements from other types of therapy based on the patient’s symptoms and severity of the depression. Evidence-based psychotherapies for clinical depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and problem-solving therapy.

Psychotherapy helps people living with depression to become aware of negative thought patterns. Through talk therapy, patients learn to question their thoughts and understand how their thoughts affect their feelings and behavior. This understanding forms the basis for changing thoughts and behavior.

Part of psychotherapy may include helping people find ways to cope with stress and find ways to relax, such as practicing meditation or mindfulness. Therapy also helps people to explore their interactions with others and coach them on improving their social and communication skills. Some therapists ask their patients to track their emotions and activities so they can compare the two.

For people that have suicidal ideations, a therapist can assist in safety planning by helping them recognize the warning signs and encouraging them to use coping strategies and ask for help.

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Taking Care Of Your Physical Health Improves Clinical Depression Symptoms

Doing your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle goes a long way toward supporting treatment for clinical depression. It helps to exercise and be active. Spend time in the company of other people that you trust. Resist the temptation to hide away and allow others to help you. Try to take note of gradual improvements in your mood. Put off making any major decisions in your life, such as getting married or divorced, having children, or making a major purchase until you feel more emotionally stable.

Your primary care practitioner is a good place to start if you think that you may be dealing with clinical depression. You might also consider online therapy as an option for getting your symptoms of clinical depression under control. The important thing is to pursue some type of help so that you can begin feeling better at the earliest opportunity.


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