What is depression?

Spoiler alert: It’s more than just sadness.

Before I begin, let me explain why I’m doing this blog entry.

If you’ve read anything about me or on this blog, you know that I regularly speak about depression, including it’s causes and potential solutions. However, one of the things which occasionally surprises me is that there is a lack of awareness about what depression really is – and how it’s so much more complex than feeling down.

I was looking at Google Trends for some ideas for a blog entry, and I came across this:

depression google trends

This is a look at searches and trends related to the phrase “depression.” The first four are not really a surprise, but it’s the fifth entry that is most interesting: “What is depression.” For something to show up this high on Google Trends, it must be something that people want to know.

Let’s try to answer that question.

In my opinion, the best way to answer this question is to turn to the experts, and specifically, the DSM-5, or Diagnostic & Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM-5 is basically the bible for psychiatric disorders and is used to diagnose depression.

According to the DSM-5, the “formal” criteria of depression include any of the following:

1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
4. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
5. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
6. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
8. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

To meet the formal criteria, someone must experience at least five of these symptoms over a two week period, must have #1 or #2, and they must impair functioning or cause distress.

Why is the above information important?

Because I’m trying to make a point here: Depression is so much more than feeling sad.

There’s this misconception out there that depression – real, painful, rehabilitating depression – is simply about sadness. That it’s just a matter of feeling down. And that’s just not the case, at all. Depression is about so much more, including:

  • Losing pleasure or the ability to feel joy
  • Emotional numbness
  • Feeling sluggish and slow, like you’re moving through jello
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Losing the ability to concentrate
  • Thinking excessively of death
  • Restlessness and losing the ability to sleep

Again, and let me emphasize this: I’m not a doctor. But I’ve been there. And I want to make sure that you can recognize symptoms of depression in yourself or others. Depression is more than just sadness, and if any of the above sounds too familiar to you or someone you love, please seek help immediately. This world is worth living in. And you should know what you are experiencing if you find yourself in this kind of pain.

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