We find so many different words for it. Sometimes we call it the blues, the doldrums, or the blahs. Everbody gets feelings of being sad or blah sometimes — it’s a pretty normal part of life. What happens, though, when it doesn’t go away? When do we know that it’s something more than just feeling down, and is more accurately described as depression?

As a therapist who specializes in the treatment of depression, I’ve noticed that many of my clients are not even comfortable with the word. Depression, it seems, is something that many of us fear even talking about. The word itself doesn’t conjure up pleasant images. For some people, when we put the label “depression” on it, it makes it seem more permanent, somehow more pathological — and many people start to experience shame. Giving it a name, though, is helpful, too. When we recognize that the blues or blahs are lasting a bit longer than normal, it’s probably better to describe this mood as depression, rather than another word that minimizes its severity.

Many people who have never experienced lingering depression may not quite understand it. Too frequently, those with depression are told to “snap out of it” or lectured about how attitude is a choice. While this sort of advice is most often intended to be helpful, it isn’t. Advice like this is similar to telling someone with a broken arm that if they just would think differently, their arm would be fine. When depression is more than just the blues, it is a legitimate condition that requires professional treatment.

So if depression is a condition that requires treatment, just as a broken arm, diabetes, or kidney disease, how can you tell if it is time to seek treatment from a professional? It’s a great question because unlike the examples of a broken arm or kidney disease, depression doesn’t yet have an accurate blood test or objective way of measuring its presence. Here are some clues that you might be experiencing depression:

  • You find that it takes you a lot longer to do things than it used to. Perhaps you used to be able to clean the house in an hour, and now you can’t seem to get it done under 3 hours. If there’s no other cause (say, a new muddy puppy or a messy houseguest) consider whether you might be experiencing depression.
  • Things that used to have a lot of interest in suddenly don’t provide you as much enjoyment. You may find that although you used to get a great deal of enjoyment from going to the movies, you no longer have any interest in going — and if you do, it’s not that much fun anymore.
  • Making decisions is tedious if not impossible. It can be anything from choosing what to eat or what to wear — the energy that you have to use to make a decision might seem overwhelming.
  • You feel like you don’t even deserve to be happy.
  • Sleep patterns have changed. You may experience hypersomnia (wanting to sleep a lot) or insomnia (having difficulty sleeping). Oftentimes, depressed individuals will have their sleeping schedules reversed from the norm. E.g., sleeping all day and feeling quite awake at night.
  • Frequent thoughts about escaping or even suicide. Most people have had escapist thoughts about no longer wanting to deal with the stresses of life and finding a way out, such as running away or just not being on the planet anymore. Others will contemplate ending their lives. If you find yourself formulating a plan to suicide, it’s definitely time to call a professional or seek emergency services. If you’re just experiencing escapist thoughts, but notice that they’re more frequent than usual, this can also be a good indication that depression should be treated by a professional.
  • You notice you’re not bouncing back from the blues as quickly as you usually do. Most people experience periods where they feel down or blue for 1-2 days at a time. If it’s lingering beyond a couple of weeks, there’s really no need to stay feeling stuck. A therapist can help!

Although this list is not exhaustive, it can give you a few hints as to whether it is time to contact a professional. The best advice I can give anyone who suspects that they might be dealing with true depression is to consult with a therapist. The money you spend on the consultation will be worth the peace of mind in and of itself. A therapist can help you formulate a plan to feeling more like yourself — in the shortest time possible.

Depression is a real, but treatable condition. Just like physical ailments can heal with proper care, so can depression. If you’re experiencing an extended stay of the blues, reach out! You don’t need to stay stuck. You can feel good again.

If you are experincing severe suicidal thoughts, help is available. You can call the National Suicide Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. For immediate attention, call 911 or take yourself to an emergency room.

Jeremy Savage, MA, LPC is a licensed professional counselor in Denver, Colorado. He provides psychotherapy and counseling in his private practice near Cheesman Park. To schedule a consultation, please contact him at 303-834-7005.

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Jeremy Savage, MA, LPC

2727 Bryant St. #104
Denver, CO 80211

jeremy@jeremydavidsavage.com
303-834-7005



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