“I’m so depressed!”
I had a discussion tonight on the nature of depression, and where I think most people get it wrong is by conflating depression with an emotion.
It isn’t an emotion. It’s an illness that causes a mood disorder.
If you’re in a down mood for a few hours, you aren’t depressed. You’re in a down mood.
Moods come and go. It’s the nature of moods.
Depression is defined by having a certain number of symptoms for a certain period of time. For severe depression, it’s at least five of nine symptoms for at least two weeks. See this CAMH web page for background on the different types of depression.
According to Margaret Wehrenberg‘s The 10 Best-Ever Depression Management Techniques, MRI images show physical changes in the brains of depressed individuals.
It’s unlikely you’ll develop that from not getting what you wanted for Christmas or because your dinner date cancelled on you.
But mood is undeniably a symptom of depression, and one of the most visible ones. So there is a natural tendency to confuse the two. However, you can appear happy at times while still very much in the grip of depression. The illness doesn’t necessarily mean you present the same mood all the time.
In terms of functionality, there is variability too. As my doctor put it to me 70 per cent functionality could mean you’re at 100 per cent one day, 40 per cent the next and exactly 70 per cent on the third.
The amorphous nature of depression makes it difficult to understand. That problem becomes much worse when people use the term improperly.
If you want a list of clinical terms, see this CAMH depression glossary.