What Depression Really Means

At lunch the other day, a good friend said he thought he was depressed. His aunt had recently died and he had lost an important contact at work. I commented that while he might be depressed, it might also be that he was simply feeling certain sadness over some disappointing losses.

What this conversation reminded me of is how our culture can take a psychological term such as depression and apply it to almost any and all situations, thus losing the real meaning.

Let's take a look at three distinct emotional states commonly lumped together as depression. We will look at characteristics of each and what you can do about them.

The blues

"And I guess that's why they call it the blues …" – Elton John

The blues are simply a temporary feeling of sadness. Often, they can not be linked to any particular event or situation.

Characteristics can include a mild feeling of restlessness; a temporary loss of energy and a sort of mopiness.

The blues make you want to curl up on the couch with a good book, or maybe channel surf. You just want to escape.

The blues usually pass rather quickly, and the trick is to just keep on going. Having the blues usually does not indicate a problem.

Sadness

"Sad eyes, turn the other way." – Robert John

Sadness, on the other hand, can usually be linked with events or situations. Sadness is a very normal and natural emotional state. Often times, a feeling of sadness is a normal response to the disappointments of life.

In the example of my friend who was afraid he was depressed, it would be normal for him to feel sad over his recent losses and disappointments.

What seems to happen to many people is that, instead of one or two disappointing events occurring far apart, many things happen all at once. There is a "pile-up" of disappointments and losses, resulting in a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Typically, when you add up all the recent painful events in a person's life, the question changes from "how could I be feeling this way?" to "how could I not be feeling this way?"

While sadness is a normal human emotion, our culture does not make many allowances for it. We have been taught either to find a quick fix or to fight the feeling.

But with sadness, as with many emotions, the more you resist, the more it persists.

My suggestions for dealing with sadness include simply feeling what you feel and allowing it to run its course; taking a few
days to relax, talking with friends and family, and possibly talking things over with a counselor.

Depression

"Stayed in bed all mornin 'just to pass the time." – Carole King

True depression can come in many forms. Clinical depression, post-partum depression and bi-polar disorder are all treatable forms of depression.

Characteristics can include the following:

o sleeping more, or less

o eating more, or less

o loss of energy

o loss of interest in hobbies, etc.

o mood swings

o feelings of helplessness or hopelessness

o thoughts of suicide

Any of the true forms of clinical depression call for a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication.

Check with your physician and a therapist familiar with treating depression.

Whatever it's the blues; sadness or clinical depression, we all go through low times in life.

The smartest and strongest folks are the ones who know how and when to ask for help and then make sure they get it.