Just the Blues or Clinical Depression: Making the Distinction to Get the Help You Need
Feeling a sad or down are a normal part of life. It can be caused by sad event, seasonal changes, or stress. Depression is when these feelings affect how you feel or think about things and how well you eat and sleep. It can cause physical problems and interfere with day to day life. It can cause problems in relationships, work, school, and hobbies. Depression can also have more intense feelings, such as hopelessness and worthlessness. It stays around longer than you would expect and tends to keep happening.
It is important to know the difference. Depression may need professional help to help break the cycle.
Symptoms of Depression
You may have been asked questions about mood and sleep at the doctor's office. This is in part to help screen for depression. There are no physical tools to measure depression. Instead the doctor will look for symptoms such as:
- Sadness, anxiousness, or feeling of emptiness that stay around
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
- Loss of appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
- Sleeping too much or too little, early-morning awakening
- Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling like you are slowed down
- Restlessness, irritability, or excessive crying
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, negative thought
- Hard time concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
Symptoms and intensity are different from person to person. Your doctor will talk to you to help diagnose depression.
Talk to your doctor if you have had these symptoms. They may want to talk to you further. A physical exam may also be done to rule out other health problems.If you have thoughts of death or suicide, seek help immediately
Types of Treatment
Beating the Blues
Beating the blues can often be done without treatment. Consider writing down things that are causing low moods. Note what tends to make you happy. This may reveal a pattern that can help next time you feel down. Other steps that may help are:
- Get into the light. Winter months have less sunlight which can affect your mood. Go outside when the sun shines and turning on more lamps. Talk to your doctor if you have severe problems in winter days. Ask about seasonal affective disorder.
- Adjust your goals or what you should expect. Set realistic goals. Make sure they can be reached. Break large tasks into smaller tasks to make them more manageable.
- Be patient with yourself. You may not be able to do everything you usually do. Ask your friends and family for help when needed.
- Postpone important decisions until you are feeling more like yourself.
- Make time for friends, hobbies, and travel even when you do not feel like it. Time with your friends will help improve your mood.
- Increase your social and/or spiritual support.
- Find time for regular exercise. Exercise helps clear your mind and improve your overall mood. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise per day on most days of the week. Try to find outdoor exercise. Outdoor time itself is linked to better mood.
- Get better sleep. Go to bed and wake up on a regular schedule, this includes your days off. The proper amount of rest will make your body and mind feel better.
- Choose healthy foods. A good diet will help you feel better all around and give you more energy.
Depression is treatable. The treatment plan will be based on individual needs. Common steps include:
- Psychotherapy or counseling to help address root causes and change unhealthy thought patterns. There are many different types of therapy. Each has a unique approach. The care team will help find which may be best. The therapy may also change.
- Medicine to help ease symptoms. It may be given short or long term. Medicine may help if the depression is making it hard to seek help.
- Combination of psychotherapy and medicine.
Be patient and honest with your doctor. It may take some time to find the right plan for you. The plan may also need to be adjusted throughout treatment.
Ways to Get Help
- If you need immediate help or if you are having thoughts of death or suicide, call the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).
- Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Ask questions about treatment plans.
- Contact a hospital near your home to determine if they have or can recommend a mood/affective disorder clinic. If not, ask for their referrals to doctors in the community who specialize in the treatment of depression.
- If a treatment plan has not been effective within three months, talk to another doctor. Look for someone with experience in depression.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
National Institutes of Mental Health
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Mental Health Canada
Antidepressant use in children, adolescents, and adults. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/InformationbyDrugClass/UCM096273. Accessed January 29, 2020.
Depression. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Accessed January 29, 2020.
Depression. National Institutes of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml. Accessed January 29, 2020.
The blues and depression: What you can do to overcome them. Kansas State University website. Available at: http://www.k-state.edu/counseling/topics/life/blues.html. Accessed January 29, 2020.
Last reviewed January 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 7/15/2020