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Diagnosing Depression : Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Updated on March 16, 2010

What to Know About Diagnosing Depression

Unlike with physical illnesses that have a clearly traceable cause, diagnosing depression is difficult to do in black and white terms, and must depend on a face-to-face meeting with a doctor or psychiatrist who has experience dealing with depressed persons.

So much of the signs and symptoms of clinical depression are internal, and loved ones can only help the sufferers if they know what is going on in your head. But it doesn't help when anxious, guilty, or miserable thoughts are whirling around your head, telling you that you're stupid for feeling this way, or you are not worth other people's help.

If you're miserable, and there's no single reason you can pinpoint, like grief over a death or a breakup, then you deserve to get help regardless of whether or not it turns out you have depression. And if these diagnosing depression symptoms don't quite match up to the way you're feeling, look at the signs of anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (a variety of clinical depression) to see if those symptoms match up to how you're feeling.

Symptoms of Depression for Diagnosis

  • Many people assume that the overlying sign of depression would be a feeling of sadness, but this is often not the case. Most people with depression report feeling "blank," with muted emotional reactions to things, both happy and sad.
  • However, feelings of self-hatred and guilt are extremely common, and it is not unusual for the sufferer to be going about their daily life when they find themselves suddenly crying for no apparent reason.
  • Another symptom of depression is changes in behavior, which can be a pretty broad range of alterations, like being more angry, irritable, tired, slow-moving, or anxious than before. Depressed people often eat less and may have anxiety attacks contemplating death.
  • Many former depression sufferers have reported not getting joy out of the hobbies they once enjoyed, not enjoying their loved ones' presence, and trouble focusing on or caring about work may lead to significantly worse work performance.

Next Steps for People Suffering from Depression

It's easier said than done, but it's important not to blame yourself for how you feel. You wouldn't hate yourself for getting the flu, so don't direct negative thoughts inward for needing some mental health help.

However, unlike the flu, many people can't recover from depression on their own. A good analogy would be that they are in a hole with steep sides that they need a trained person with a ladder, and/or medication, to pull them out of the misery that is clinical depression.

If you ever feel suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 day or night to talked to a trained counselor who will listen to you and talk with you about whatever you want, for however long you need to talk. And by that same token, never leave someone who you believe might be suicidal alone, even for a moment. Get them on the phone with the above phone number, to a doctor, or a trained mental health expert.

If you're depressed but not suicidal, you need to make an appointment with a doctor or a counselor, depending on your preferences. A doctor will likely prescribe you anti-depressants that will help redirect some of the chemicals in your brain that may be contributing to the way you feel. A therapist will likely set up regular appointments with you to discuss why you feel the way you do, and how to overcome your negative feelings.

And of course, many people use both methods to overcome depression. It all depends on what the individual is comfortable with, but please, take a course of action. So many people think their depression is just a phase that will eventually go away, but without outside help, it probably will not.

Diagnosing depression is a tricky business, but in the end, if you feel like there is something wrong with how you are feeling, you are probably correct, even if your troubles may not be depression. You need to visit with a mental health professional to see what your next steps should be.



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