If you, or someone you know, has been feeling sad most of the day and can’t seem to shake that down feeling, perhaps you or that person has Major Depressive Disorder. Dysthymia is a form of depression that is milder than Major Depression. It lasts for at least two years. We will be exploring Major Depressive Disorder that is not Dysthymia.
Depression can happen to anyone. It can be caused by a traumatic event, a change in body chemistry, or a sense of deep loss. In some cases, an inherited family pattern can spark the depression. This is sometimes called a predisposition for depression. Depression is usually caused by what we perceive as a traumatic event. Therefore, depression is not a preventable condition. To one person, trauma can be a huge, horrible event, but to another, it can be something more subtle. Each person has his/her own reality, so another person cannot determine if a specific event was traumatic for another. Only you can determine what feels traumatic to you.
Feeling sad, having low energy, having a low libido, or being irritable can indicate an episode of Major Depressive Disorder. Notice the diagnosis is “disorder.” This is not a mental illness that can only be treated and maintained with medication. It is a disorder, so just like a physical flu, this disorder can go away.
While sadness touches all of our lives at different times, the illness of depression can have enormous depth and staying power. If you have ever experienced depression or been close to someone who has, you know that this disorder cannot be changed at will. It cannot be wished or joked away either. It is not just the blues, and you cannot just “get over it.”
Depression is similar to an emotional flu. When you go to the Medical Doctor and tell him/her you have symptoms such as fever, nausea, etc, the doctor may say, “Oh, you have the flu. Go home and get lots of rest. Drink lots of fluids and take care of yourself.”
So, you go home and say to yourself, “Self, this is so stupid. Why can I not get over this fever and throwing up?!” Right? No, you do not. You take care of yourself and let your body heal. Depression is a form of emotional flu. I instruct my clients to take care of themselves and let their mental body heal. Saying to yourself, “Self, this is so stupid. Why can I not just get over feeling drained and irritable?” Just as saying "get over it" for the physical flu symptoms won't cure the symptoms, you cannot just tell yourself to get over the depression.
Depression symptoms will tell you how the “emotional flu" is affecting your life. Depression flu symptoms are sometimes not as obvious as physical flu symptoms. Have you or someone you know changed recently? This person has no energy, a lack of concentration, and decreased libido. In children, irritability can be a symptom of depression. How do the mental health professionals determine if we are sad or having a Major Depressive Disorder episode?