A depressive disorder is a whole-body illness, involving the body, mood, and thoughts, and affects the way a person eats and sleeps, feels about himself or herself, and thinks about things. It is not the same as being unhappy or in a blue mood. Nor is it a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better.
Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from depression. During any one year period, nearly 21 million American adults suffer from depressive illness. Yet, treatment can alleviate symptoms in most cases. (Visit our health library for more on the different types of depression and symptoms of depression.)
What's the difference between a bad case of the blues and the painful mental disorder known as depression? According to the experts, impaired functioning is usually a clear-cut indication of a major depression.
Here's a quick checklist of depression symptoms. If the list sounds familiar, you may want to see a counselor or a psychiatrist.
For more information about UCLA Neuropsychiatric and Behavioral Services, please call the ACCESS Center at (800) 825-9989 or (310) 825-9989, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PST).
Depressive mood. Do you suffer from feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, or pessimism for days at a time?
Sleep disturbance. Do you have trouble falling asleep at night or trouble staying asleep—waking up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning? Are you sleeping too much?
Chronically fatigued. Do you frequently feel tired or lack energy?
Isolation. Have you stopped meeting with family or friends? Increasing isolation and diminished interest or pleasure in activities are major signs of depression.
Appetite disturbance. Are you eating far less than usual—or far more? Severe and continuing appetite disturbance is often an indication of depression.
Inability to concentrate. If you can't seem to focus on even routine tasks, it's probably time to get some help.
Dependence on mood-altering substances. If you depend on alcohol or other drugs to make it through the day, you may be suffering from depression. Often, the substance abuse causes symptoms that mimic the appearance of clinical depression, but are, in fact, due wholly to the drug use.
Feeling a sense of inappropriate guilt
Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide or a suicide attempt