How Major Depressive Disorder Differs from a ‘Blue Mood’
Everyone experiences sadness sometimes. Negative emotions are a normal part of living, but there is a difference between passing sadness and major depressive disorder (MDD). Situational depression is the term used for the ‘blue mood,’ which is what people feel in response to negative life circumstances. With time and support, this sadness normally passes. If a person does not recover, they may be diagnosed with MDD.
There are key differences that help to make MDD recognizable and distinguishable from situational depression. MDD is much more severe than situational depression and affects all facets of a person’s life. In order to be diagnosed with MDD, a person must experience 5 or more symptoms listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. When these symptoms are experienced nearly every day for more than two weeks, a person may be diagnosed with MDD.
Risk Factors for Depression
Certain risk factors predispose a person to developing MDD. Understanding the risk factors can make one more conscious of their level of risk. These risk factors include:
- Genetics- Researchers suggest that around 50% of the cause of depression is genetic. A person with a parent or sibling with depression is 2 to 3 times more likely to develop depression in their lifetime compared to the average person.
- Grief- It is absolutely normal to feel grief after the death of a loved one, but sometimes normal grief can turn into unhealthy behaviors indicative of MDD, such as suicidal ideation or extreme guilt. Losing a parent or family member early in childhood is another risk factor.
- Trauma- Trauma in childhood such as abuse or neglect predisposes a person to developing depression and other mental health disorders. In adulthood too, trauma can cause MDD. Many of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and MDD overlap, and people can experience both conditions at once.
- Life circumstances- changes in your life, good or bad, can bring about depression. These include moving to a new area, losing or gaining employment, getting married, and having a child. This type of depression usually goes away, but it can persist for weeks developing into MDD.
Emotional Warning Signs
MDD causes many different emotional responses in different people, but is most recognizable by a persistent mood of despair.
- Despair- One may find themselves feeling overwhelmed with despair to the point of crying for long periods of time.
- Hopelessness- People with depression often have a difficult time fostering hope that their situation or feelings will improve. If they are unemployed or struggling with other life obstacles, hopelessness can make the situation much more severe.
- Guilt- The depressed person may place all the blame for situations on themselves, even things that are out of their control. People with depression are a lot harder on themselves, and rarely are able to forgive themselves for past misdeeds.
- Irritability or Anger- Sudden outbursts of these negative emotions can leave one feeling out of control and upset with their friends, family members, and co-workers.
Mental Warning Signs
- Loss of Interest in Normal Activities- Depression will cause people to neglect their dearest hobbies and give up on following their passions. Loss of desire for sexual activity is also a common symptom, and depression can even cause impotence.
- Loss of Appetite- If a favorite food is about as appetizing as cardboard, this is a sign of depression. Lack of proper nutrition can cause depression to worsen, leading to a downward spiral in terms of mood. Lack of appetite can cause weight loss or even anorexia.
- Over-eating- Food can bring about temporary relief and comfort during the emotional ups and downs of depression leading to weight gain. Eating disorders such as binge eating are also related to depression.
- Substance Abuse- People with depression often seek temporary relief of suffering through addictive substances. Unfortunately, this is an unhealthy coping mechanism that leaves people feeling worse in the long run.
- Suicidal Thoughts- Thoughts of suicide should always be taken seriously. This is a sure sign that a person is experiencing a mental-health disorder.
Physical Warning Signs
The body and mind are intertwined, so depression is not just a disorder of the mind; many of the symptoms are physical.
- Fatigue- Depression can make minor activities to feel like one is about to run a marathon. This is part of the reason why people with depression stop doing the things they once enjoyed.
- Sleep Issues- Depression can cause people to oversleep, but it can also cause atypical early morning waking and insomnia.
- Headaches- if a person already has migraines, they will be worse.
- Pain- Back pain, muscle pain, and joint pain
- Digestive problems- People may experience constipation or diarrhea.
What to Do
If you have any of the above symptoms, please see a doctor who can help to rule out physical illnesses such as hypothyroidism that have depression like symptoms. Be prepared to answer questions about when symptoms first appeared, how long they have lasted, and level of severity. A primary care physician will be able to recommend a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor who can further assist by providing a diagnosis and course of treatment .
There is no shame and a full life to gain by admitting the presence and impact of symptoms and seeking professional treatment. Seeking help is an indication of strength and self-love. An estimated 16 million people or 6.7% of the population in the United States have been diagnosed with MDD. Those with depression are not alone, and there are professional practitioners out there who have treatments available to offer relief from this debilitating disease. Millions of people heal from depression each year and live fulfilling lives as a result of seeking professional help and impactful treatments such as TMS; there is hope.