We live in a time when our general vocabulary is filled with psychological terms. Unfortunately, many people use psychological labels incorrectly. The most common error I hear is the misuse of the word, depression. Depression is used when people are sad, upset, distressed, and really depressed. If someone is sad or upset for a few days, we do not consider him or her to be depressed.
The symptoms of depression are poor eating or overeating, insomnia or hypersomnia, low energy or fatigue, low self-esteem, poor concentration or difficulty making decisions, and feelings of hopelessness. Many people may experience these symptoms from time to time. However, to be diagnosed as depressed, an adult has to have these symptoms consistently for almost two years. For children and adolescents it can be one year. Yes, children can be diagnosed as being depressed.
To make it easier, I like to view depression in a comparison to common illnesses: cold, flu, and pneumonia. What we call a "subclinical depression" is when someone is always negative, irritable, easily angered, and does not seem to enjoy their life. They have been this way for years, maybe their whole lifetime. They work and take care of their needs, but they just do not seem to be happy. The person with a subclinical depression would not see himself or herself as being depressed. Others may just see this person as being difficult, or even abusive. Since they can function every day and they are not bedridden, I compare this to a cold. However, with a cold people tend to self-medicate. The possibility of a subclinically depressed patient finding relief in substances (alcohol or drugs) is very high.
A more severe depression causes the person to have many of the symptoms I stated above. They may still be able to partially function, but they are obviously ill. They feel ill, others can recognize that they are not functioning, and they should see a doctor for medical attention. They have what I would consider the middle level depression- what I would compare to the flu.
The person with a more severe depression would be unable to function. They may have no energy or drive to get out of bed; their will to live may be sapped. Depending on their age, level of general health, and severity of the illness, they need significant medical attention or even hospitalization to keep them alive. This level of depression is what I compare to Pneumonia.
In this brief article, I have simplistically explained depression. I do not want to minimize the disorder or suggest that the proper diagnosis of depression is this simple. In subsequent articles, I will explain further other complications, variations of the disorder, and appropriate treatments for Depression.