Am I just sad or am I clinically depressed?

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, May 03, 2023
By Shumaia Rahman, DO, MBA

Lisa is a 55-year-old, happily married retired woman who lives with her husband in a house in Coconut Grove. All her children are adults and live on their own. Her mother also lives a few blocks away from her house. During her retirement, Lisa has picked up a few new hobbies, including gardening, yoga, and playing pickleball with her friends.

About two months ago, Lisa noticed a sharp decline in her mood. Normally, she is out of bed by 7 AM, getting her day started. However, lately, she has been having a hard time getting out of bed. She feels extremely tired while doing simple things like taking a shower, washing her hair, or changing into new clothes.

sad face

Due to her family’s concern, she finally makes an appointment to see her primary care doctor for a physical exam. Doctor runs all the tests and suggests she see a psychiatrist.  During her psychiatrist’s appointment Lisa asks, “What is the difference between regular sadness and clinical depression?”

This story suggests Lisa may be experiencing symptoms of clinical depression. Being sad is not the same as having depression. Feeling sad is a natural human emotion that is typically triggered by a specific event or circumstance. It is a normal part of the range of human emotions and generally does not last for an extended period.

For us humans, sadness can be a healthy response to situations like losing a job or a loved one, facing a difficult challenge, or experiencing disappointment.

Depression, on the other hand, is a medical illness that can cause a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness or emptiness that lasts for weeks, months, or even years if untreated. Unlike sadness, depression does not always have identifiable triggers and it can negatively affect our day to day life. Symptoms of depression include persistent sadness, lack of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and difficulty concentrating or making decisions and sometimes thoughts of death or suicide. Symptoms must last at least two weeks and must represent a change in your previous level of functioning for a diagnosis of depression.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year. And one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life. Women are more likely than men to experience depression. There is a high degree of heritability (approximately 40%) when first-degree relatives (parents, children, or siblings) have depression.

It is important for Lisa to seek help from a mental health professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist, who can provide an accurate diagnosis and treatment options. Treatment for depression may include forms of psychotherapy, medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of these approaches.

The role of brain chemistry in depression and its impact on treatment is widely recognized. In such cases, antidepressants may be prescribed to alter brain chemistry and provide relief. It is important to note that these medications are not addictive or habit forming.

Furthermore, they typically do not have any stimulating effects on individuals who do not suffer from depression.  When someone is recommended medications, psychiatrists usually recommend that patients take medications for six or more months after the symptoms have improved.  Longer-term maintenance treatment may be suggested to decrease the risk of future episodes for some people at high risk.

Distinguishing between sadness and depression is important and can assist people in getting the help, support or treatment they need.

Quote of the Week

“And still, I rise.”  —  Maya Angelouhot air balloon