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Depression: Do You Even Have It?

A recent study found that many people are being wrongly diagnosed with depression and are being medicated when they don’t need to be (click here). Antidepressants are being handed out to people who are just going through a bad patch, or simply feeling a bit down in the dumps about something. In short, they’re being popped on pills whilst simply dealing with the realities of life. But, is depression ever normal and should it always be medicated?

The answers are a: yes, it can be and b: no, not always. I’ve blogged about depression before (click here).

When something bad happens (such as being fired or being dumped by someone you love) it’s not only perfectly normal to feel sad, blue or down, but it’s also totally appropriate to the situation. Feeling down, feeling tired, suffering from insomnia, experiencing loss of libido or appetite change for a good couple of weeks after a negative situation does not require medication. It doesn’t even need therapy. It’s simply you going through something.

It’s when the feeling goes on for longer than that (or becomes more severe) that intervention is required.

There’s a whole world of difference between what CBT calls healthy sadness (that rational reaction to a negative life event) and unhealthy depression (an irrational reaction to the same event). Thankfully, there are a few pointers.

Depression is mainly concerned with loss and failure. Often (but not always), the unhealthily depressed only focus on the negatives (to them, it’s all doom and gloom, always was, always will be). They tend to dwell on all the other losses and failures they have endured and feel both helpless and hopeless.

As a result, depressed people withdraw from life, and from their family and friends; they withdraw into themselves, let their appearances go, let chores slip and, in extreme cases, try to terminate their feelings in self-destructive ways (such as drugs, alcohol and even suicide).

Sadness, meanwhile, whilst still mainly concerned with loss and failure, is a very different beast. The sad can see both the positive and the negative aspects of that loss or failure. As a result, they’re less likely to focus on all the other losses and failures in their lives. They don’t tend to feel helpless and they don’t tend to feel hopeless (understanding that, although it’s bad now, it will get better). They are more able to talk about what they are going through and, after a period of reflection and/or mourning, are much more able to get back out there and engage with life.

Don’t forget, however, that in the aftermath of a negative or traumatic event, even unhealthy depression is a rational reaction (at least for a couple of weeks or so). It’s not nice, it’s not pleasant, but it is perfectly normal.

However, if you think your depression has been going on for longer than that (or is not attributable to a specific event or series of events), then seeking out advice from your GP or a therapist is a perfectly sensible precaution.