by Reed Stoddard
We all have known discouragement, or a "down time" on occasion. But, one out of five of us will experience a clinical depression in our lifetime. Understanding the difference between the two is important. There are many diverse causes of depression, but regardless of the circumstances, the symptoms are generally the same. The difference between a normal slump in mood and a clinical depression is measured by both the severity and duration of the symptoms you are experiencing.
The diagnosis of clinical, or major depression is made if an individual has at least five symptoms from a list of nine. The list of symptoms includes: (1) depressed mood or sadness most of the day nearly every day, (2) a loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day, (3) a change in appetite, up or down, (4) change in sleep patterns (insomnia of hypersomnia), (5) physical restlessness or sluggishness, (6) low energy, (7) feeling worthless, (8) difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and (9) thoughts of death or suicide. Either the depressed mood or the loss of interest must be one of the symptoms, and the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks and be a change from your previous functioning.
If a person has had at least five of the above signs for two weeks they probably have major depression and should seek professional help. The psychological treatment of depression usually focuses on altering behavior and/or thought processes. A behavioral focus in therapy may include improving interpersonal relationships, attending to physical needs such as sleep and exercise habits, and stress management techniques. The cognitive therapy of depression is focused on the identification and correction of problematic thought patterns that have contributed to the depressed mood. In addition to psychotherapy, medicine may be helpful in alleviating the symptoms of depression.
Anti-depressant medications have improved greatly in the past ten years, becoming safer, and have in fewer side effects, and they are helpful to a large number of people. Research suggests that for severe depression a combination of therapy and medicine is most successful. If you or someone you know feels that they need help with depression there are licensed therapists available, and insurances usually cover at least part of the cost. Most physicians are comfortable diagnosing, and prescribing medicine for depression.
Faculty Staff Bulletin--October 30, 1997