We hear the word "depressed" thrown around frequently these days, applied to many situations that may or may not relate to true depression. We also hear terms like "clinically depressed," "major depression," or simply "depression" when describing mood diagnoses. This post will break down how to differentiate between situational sadness, typical mood fluctuations, and the mood disorder known as Major Depressive Disorder.
It is a normal and expected part of life to have ups and downs in mood. To feel sad when disappointed by someone, to be burdened by grief after a major loss, to feel frustrated and angry at a boss, to feel defeated when getting a low grade on an exam; these are typical human reactions to life's many stressors. As Buddha said, life is suffering. So, we can expect those fluctuations within our days and weeks.
However, a persistent low mood can reflect something beyond situational sadness. This is the point at which we look at the possibility of a Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), which is how depression is currently diagnosed. To be diagnosed with MDD, you must meet at least five of the following criteria:
If you or someone you know seems to be struggling with MDD, it is important to seek help. Untreated MDD can spiral into more severe symptoms, greater impairment in functioning, and increased risk of suicide. Psychotherapy is great resource to manage symptoms depression. Others utilize medication, which is most effective when combined with psychotherapy. There are also exciting new treatments on the rise, including Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) and physician-administered psychoactive drugs, such as Ketamine, that are being implemented for treatment-resistant cases of MDD.
Here's to a brighter future and better treatment for MDD. Thanks for reading!
Dr. Bethany Detwiler is a psychologist practicing in Allentown, PA. She specializes in mood and relationship struggles. She also is an adjunct professor of counseling at Lehigh University.