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How do we know when we have depression?

Most of us feel sad or miserable quite often. This may follow a disappointment, loss of a friend, loss of a job, or other stressful or unpleasant things that happen in our lives. At other times there may seem to be no particular reason for our feelings of sadness. Of course if we search hard enough we can always find some stressors in our lives to blame for our unhappiness – our work, our children, family, finances, partners and friends.

There is a tendency for some of us to label all our unpleasant feelings as “depression”. Often they could be described more exactly as sadness, anger, frustration, jealousy or fear.

The disorder that is given the somewhat confusing name “depression” is an exaggeration of those everyday feelings of sadness. In its more severe forms the misery that we feel is quite out of proportion to the stress that we have been under. The disorder affects many areas of our everyday lives. The features of a depressive disorder include:

  • Feeling extremely miserable, this feeling of great sadness that is present from most of the day, nearly every day and lasts for two weeks or more.
  • Having less interest and getting less pleasure from our usual rewarding activities.
  • Lowered/ increased appetite for food with noticeable loss of weight (at least 2-3kg).
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping nearly everyday.
  • Decreased energy even when we are not actually physically active.
  • Feeling worthless or excessive/inappropriate guilt nearly everyday.
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions nearly every day.
  • Recurring thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideas.
  • Loss of ability to function is areas such as work, social life and family life.

Any of these features may be warning signs of depression, but many occur in other disorders other than depression.