The difference between clinical depression and feeling down
Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in Australia, affecting people across all age ranges, social backgrounds and personality types. While it’s a condition which can have severe impacts on our relationships, our families, our quality of life and our careers, it’s also a condition which is treatable and manageable.
“Depression can sometimes be confused with regular feelings of sadness and unhappiness, and that misunderstanding can be a problem,” says Di Young, a senior therapist at Sydney's South Pacific Private treatment centre. “It can lead to loved ones not providing the right type of support and telling people to ‘get over it’ or ‘toughen up’, and it can also prevent people from getting professional help which could be truly transformational in ending their suffering.”
While sadness or grief can be a part of depression, depression is very different to just feeling down. Efforts to ‘cheer up’ or distract someone with depression will often fall flat, so it’s important to understand the difference.
Sadness vs Depression
At some point in our lives, every Australian will experience intense feelings of sadness or grief. It’s a normal and healthy emotional response to events which involve loss, failure and disappointment.
“As unpleasant as it might be, there’s nothing wrong with feeling sad if you’ve experienced something upsetting,” Young says. “The easiest way to tell if it’s normal and healthy is if it’s tied to a specific event and passes after a few days or weeks.”
While grief and sadness can feel overwhelming, we can expect the intensity of our feelings to fade as we process our response. Even if we’re continuing to feel sad or angry about a particular part of our lives, we’ll soon return to finding happiness in the usual experiences, friendships and activities which brought us joy before.
If a period of sadness has lasted more than two weeks with little sign of lifting, it’s probably time to reach out for support – it may be that you are experiencing reactive depression or situational depression, which is a condition in which our responses to an event are magnified by a temporary form of depression.
“Seeking professional help can not only shorten the depressive period in this type of situation but can help avoid the risk of developing unhelpful coping mechanisms which will cause problems down the line,” Young says.
Depression itself is a much more all-encompassing and long-lasting condition. Rather than being confined to a specific upsetting experience, depression casts itself over every situation and thought process. It can affect your mood, the way you understand yourself, the way you understand your relationships and where you see yourself in life.
“Depression can really throw your self-perception out of balance,” Young says. “It’s like looking into a mirror which makes everything darker and more negative – yourself, those around you, your place in life, society in general and the future. You become downcast about everything.”
Those experiencing depression say it can feel like your body is shutting down and you’re unable to enjoy anything – one of the most challenging parts is that we’ll often feel like there’s no possible solution and we’ll feel this way forever.
If we’re experiencing depression we may have a consistently low mood, experience weight fluctuations, have difficulty sleeping or find ourselves sleeping too much. We may experience ongoing fatigue, have difficulty concentrating, find it difficult to make decisions and may withdraw from family and friends. This persistent sense of hopelessness and worthlessness can eventually lead us to thoughts of guilt, death and suicide.
“Depression turns you against yourself, so it can be extremely difficult to fight your way out of it,” says Young. “That’s why it’s so important to reach out for professional help, and for your support network to understand how depression works so they’re not saying unhelpful things or blaming you for the way you’re feeling – that only makes us feel more worthless.”
“Drinking, taking drugs or engaging in risky behaviours can be a way of numbing the pain of depression in the short term,” Young says. “In the longer term, however, taking depressive substances, escalating drug use or engaging in behaviour which ultimately makes you feel bad about yourself will only make things worse.”
As a fully accredited private hospital in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, South Pacific Private offers comprehensive, holistic treatment programs for addiction, anxiety, depression and trauma. To schedule an assessment or discuss treatment options, call our team on 1800 063 332.
For individuals experiencing immediate, intense feelings of worthlessness or depression, please reach out to Lifeline 24/7 on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1800 010 630.
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