There is a big difference between feeling depressed and being depressed. Life is often a battleground in which things go wrong even for the most optimistic person…
Feeling down, stressed and sometimes worn out is just part of being human and not necessarily a symptom of a disorder or illness. Maybe it’s a response to a normal stressor like temporary financial difficulties, or problems at work, or with your children. Perhaps it could be because of an important change in your life like the birth of a baby in the family or loss of a family member or a friend. Even positive changes such as promotion at work or moving to a better house can cause supercharged emotional reactions that leave you drained and affect your normal coping skills.
There may also be some physical reasons for tiredness, poor concentration and low mood. You need to get your GP to carry out some basic tests before you can decide the best way to deal with any difficulties. There may be a problem with your blood – anaemia, for instance, especially if you have a vegetarian diet. Or your doctor might suggest that your thyroid function needs to be checked.
If you think that’s all been done but you’re no better, you might ask yourself if your low mood has persisted for 2 weeks or more. If so, this could indicate something more serious than just a passing stressor – such as Clinical Depression.
The core symptoms of depression can look a bit like this:
H opeless feelings
O verly negative thoughts
P oor appetite or too much comfort food
E nergy levels very low
L ack of interest in work/relationships/hobbies
E verything seeming to be too much trouble
S leep problems – too much or too little
S ad mood
Of course, you can have any combination of these and still be able to ride above them, but if that seems impossible then you may need to take the problem further. Talking to your friends or family might help if they’re sympathetic and used to dealing with emotional problems. However, being told, ‘Pull yourself together. Everyone has problems, you know’, is almost guaranteed to make you worse. Avoid discussing sensitive issues with people likely to respond in this way, even if they’re your closest friends at other times.
Instead it’s often a good idea to seek professional advice as to whether treatment would be useful. In many cases Talking Therapies are often recommended as the first types of treatment to try for depression-type problems. This is because they help you to understand why you feel the way you do, as well as helping you learn psychological tools and techniques to make changes. Often the long term benefits of particular Talking Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be impressive too.
Sometimes particular medications, such as antidepressants might also be recommended as well as Psychological Therapy. Antidepressants are effective but can take a while to work and may have side effects, which is why it is always a good idea to ensure that you have a doctor keeping an eye on things with you too, if you are taking medications for your mood.
So, is there a test for Depression?
The answer is both Yes and No. You can find several questionnaires that will ask you about feelings, thoughts and physical symptoms that are common with depression, and they will give you a score that will demonstrate how likely it is that you are experiencing depression. For example, the questionnaire on this page is a quick test for depression that is likely to give you an idea of whether you are experiencing typical depression symptoms.
However, the questions are designed to fit everyone and won’t necessarily capture how you feel. They won’t be able to deal with your specific feelings and circumstances and so are always best used together with professional advice if you are at all unsure.
Tests and questionnaires can go so far but are no substitute for an in depth assessment by a qualified professional. You might need to consider a Talking Therapy. The most popular and effective one is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or CBT and there is a lot of evidence that shows how useful it has proved to be with a range of emotional problems, not just depression. This is useful as it’s not uncommon that Depression can happen alongside other types of emotional problems as well- for example increased anxiety.
A suitably trained health professional will start with an assessment of the three fundamental aspects of emotional response – thoughts, feelings and behaviour. These are intimately linked and follow logically in that order.
You might be preoccupied with your feelings but the therapist will take time to establish the thoughts (cognitions) that possibly lead to the feelings in the first place. Your behavioural reactions will follow logically from what your feelings are telling you, but they might be serving to keep you depressed and isolated from your normal productive life.
Working with a therapist who can look at all three parts and help you to decide where changes can best be achieved, will enable you to understand and manage your mood problem more successfully. It’s quite complicated, but has every chance of repaying your commitment.
Why not try the test for depression on this page? If you want to schedule an appointment with a professional your GP can be a great place to start in getting good quality advice. If you are interested in starting a talking therapy, such as CBT you can do this within the NHS (although waiting times can vary in different areas), or you can look for it privately.
If you do decide to seek private Cognitive Behavioural Therapy then it’s important to make sure that the Therapist you choose is accredited by the British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, which ensures that they have enough experience and training to help you in the best way.