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The National Institutes of Health defines depression as a common but serious mood disorder. That may leave you still wondering, “Am I depressed?”
The answer is: You’re dealing with depression if your mood severely affects you how feel, think, sleep, work, and interact with others, and if symptoms are present for at least two weeks.
Specifically, if you’ve been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” moods
- Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy or feelings of constant fatigue
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
Not everyone who is depressed experiences every depression symptom. Some people experience only a few symptoms while others may experience many. The severity and frequency of symptoms—and how long they last—varies.
Download this expert FREE guide, “Am I Depressed?” Treating depression symptoms, including bipolar and clinical depression, and seasonal affective disorder.
In this free guide, you’ll find depression tests to help you self-diagnose your condition before seeing a physician.
Challenges in Diagnosing Depression
Many diseases have signs and symptoms that are easy to spot. A telltale rash, swollen joints, or high fever are all signs of disease. More subtle conditions often can be detected with straightforward diagnostic tests like blood tests or x-rays. This is not true for depression. Most people with depression look fine; their test results are normal. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering terribly on the inside.
So if you’re wondering whether anyone has noticed that you’re depressed, consider that they may not be able to tell.
Why Not Get Help?
If you’re lucky enough never to have suffered from depression, it can be difficult to understand why someone doesn’t just go to work, make a new friend, or go out to see a show when he or she complains of being “down.”
Men with depression often have a more difficult time than women, being told to “man up” in the face of their sorrows and challenges. (See also “How Widespread Is Depression? Statistics Tell the Story.”) But getting over depression isn’t just a matter of “bucking up.” Under a seemingly healthy exterior may be a tangle of emotions, hormones, and brain chemicals that are hopelessly out of whack.
Imagine having the worst flu of your life—racked with a high fever, headache, muscle pains, and crippling fatigue—and imagine someone telling you to “pull yourself together” and go to work. Could you get through the day? Two days? A week? Month? Year? Depression can be just as incapacitating as that flu, and it can last longer.
There Is Help—and Hope
Depression is a complicated disease in which unhealthy thought processes, bad habits, and uncontrolled brain chemicals or hormones all work in tandem to produce symptoms of sadness, pain, exhaustion, sleeping problems, and feelings of despair. The key is to break the cycle.
Depression medication can help rebalance your brain and boost your energy, while cognitive therapy can teach you how to change your outlook and your life. Exercise as well as mindfulness-based stress reduction, a form of meditation for the Western mind, also helps.
Depression may not clear up in a few days like the flu, but depression is a treatable disease. Countless people have walked through the shadow of depression and emerged—with help and support from professionals, friends, and family. You can, too.
Don’t let depression linger. If you’re constantly asking yourself “Am I depressed?” just know that you’re not alone. Millions of people suffer with depression. And many return to leading quality lives with proper treatment. Seek help through a licensed mental health professional. Many insurance policies provide coverage for mental health treatments.
Originally published in May 2016 and updated.