Is It Just a Bad Mood, or Actual Depression?

Is It Just a Bad Mood, or Actual Depression?
Is It Just a Bad Mood, or Actual Depression?

Everyone experiences a bad mood from time to time, and usually, they’re nothing to worry about. However, when does a bad mood or sadness indicate actual clinical depression? If you’re concerned for yourself or for a friend, consider a few things that might help you answer that question.

1. Is it triggered by something in particular?

Suppose for example that you went through a very painful breakup, and you get sad on the day of your anniversary or when you walk past that café where you and your sweetheart used to spend leisurely Sunday mornings. Feeling sad in response to these triggers is not necessarily clinical depression.

The same can be said if you get sad around the time of year that your mother passed away, or perhaps around a holiday that reminds you of your late father. These triggers and the subsequent sadness you feel are usually not pathological, and unless you find them overwhelming then they don’t typically mean that you have clinical depression.

It’s also worth noting that you can sometimes be in a bad mood or feel very upset over things that would make anyone upset, such as if you suddenly lose a job or are facing a health crisis. Your mood is simply a result of the anxiety you’re feeling and, again, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to seek professional help. You may even feel your mood lighten as these situations gradually work themselves out (or as you adjust to them).

2. Have you been in a bad mood or felt sad for more than two weeks?

You might be in a bad mood because you’re tired, because a customer yelled at you on the phone, or even because your spouse is feeling down. In some cases, you may not even be aware of how these factors are all affecting your mood! Usually, these incidents, and the associated mood, will pass soon enough.

However, if you notice that you remain in a bad mood, are upset and anxious, or feel overly sad for more than two weeks, this may signal that you have actual depression. It’s good to see a healthcare professional so you can get an accurate diagnosis if you notice your negative feelings lingering in this way.

3. Have you lost interest in things that should make you feel happy?

One sign of depression is when someone loses interest in things that they usually enjoy or that should make them happy. Notice if this is true in your case. Do you struggle to take an interest in your children or a beloved hobby? Do you find yourself just going through the motions of your job or marriage or when out with your friends? Do you find that even a good movie or a good book has no effect on your mood? While your interests can naturally change over time, when it seems that nothing makes you happy or alleviates your bad mood (including things that should otherwise interest you), this is often a sign of clinical depression.

4. Has your mood or sadness affected you physically?

When you’re in a bad mood or feeling sad, you may reach for the comfort foods. However, if you notice that you’re binge eating constantly or that you’ve lost interest in eating altogether, your changing attitude to food may be a sign of depression. You may also find that you sleep far too long, have headaches and muscle aches, and are even experiencing digestive disorders.

All of these physical symptoms are triggered by the chemical reactions in your brain caused by clinical depression. You may overeat to comfort yourself or lose interest in eating as the body suppresses the chemicals that cause you to enjoy a good meal. You may want to sleep constantly so you don’t need to face the day, and muscle aches are often the result of tension and anxiety that won’t go away.

If you notice any of these warning signs in yourself or in a friend, don’t wait long to see a healthcare professional. Clinical depression can rob a person of their quality of life and, in extreme cases, can cause them to become suicidal. However, it’s also very treatable and manageable, and getting the right help (and perhaps the right medication if necessary) can mean once again enjoying a life free from that persistent bad mood!