We often see the terms “sad” and “depressed” used interchangeably.
Some people use the term “depressed” when they really mean they’re sad, for example, “I didn’t win that competition I entered, I’m so depressed”.
Although the terms have kind of been accepted as being interchangeable, they really shouldn’t be, because sadness is a totally normal emotion that we all feel from time to time, whereas depression is a mental illness.
So how can we tell the difference?
Well, depression has a set of 10 specific diagnostic criteria*:
- At least one of the following occurring most days, most of the time, for at least two weeks:
persistent sadness or low mood
loss of interests or pleasure
fatigue or low energy
- Associated symptoms:
poor concentration or indecisiveness
poor or increased appetite
suicidal thoughts or acts
agitation or slowing of movements
guilt or self-blame
If you have fewer than four symptoms, you do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. If you have four symptoms, you are described as having mild depression. A diagnosis of moderate depression would require five to six of the ten symptoms, and if you have seven or more, this would be classified as severe depression.
As you can see, there is a lot more to depression than just feeling sad. That’s not to say that feeling sad isn’t unpleasant and upsetting, but there is a big difference between that and the persistent condition of depression.
So what can we do if we recognise these symptoms in ourselves?
Well, the first thing to do is to make an appointment with your GP. Whilst I think the internet is great for finding out information about our mental health, it’s important to get checked out by a medical professional before jumping to conclusions about a diagnosis. Make a list of the criteria you believe you meet, and take it with you to your appointment – I know for myself that I often freeze up in doctor’s appointments and don’t get across the information I want to tell them if I don’t write it down beforehand.
Aside from getting answers, another great thing about going to see your GP is that if they conclude that you are depressed, they will be able to discuss potential treatment options with you, whether it’s therapy, medication, or both. If you’re worried about forgetting what they tell you, take a notepad and pen and write it down (they should give you leaflets, but it’s good to be prepared just in case). Another option if you’re worried about not being able to communicate your needs, or forgetting what the doctor says, is to take another person with you to the appointment – maybe a partner, a family member, or a friend.
If you are dissatisfied with the response you get from your GP, you can request to see another GP for a second opinion. It is your absolute right to do this, so don’t be afraid to ask.
If you’re not sure about going to see your GP and would rather do some more research by yourself first, you could try visiting one of the following websites (I’ve linked to their specific pages on depression):
In the meantime…
Finally, we all know that it can be difficult to get a doctor’s appointment quickly, so if you are struggling in the meantime, please consider ringing Samaritans (116 123). I’ve used their service several times when I’ve been in a dark place, and their volunteers are so supportive and understanding. Don’t suffer alone.