Posted: 7/15/12
Sheila Hedden, L.C.S.W.
People often ask me whether the sadness they feel is normal or a symptom of depression.  They wonder whether they should seek help or get on medication.  The answer to that usually depends on whether there are other symptoms, and how long the symptoms have been present.  How severe the symptoms are is also important in making this determination.

Feelings of sadness are very normal, and everybody experiences them during their lives.  Sometimes, an event occurs, such as a breakup, which causes symptoms of depression.  The death of a loved one results in feelings of intense sadness, which we call grief.  In these cases, time and support from others generally helps us to get past it.  The old sayings “Time heals all wounds.” and “Things happen for a reason.” were developed to help us cope and recover during these times.

Sometimes people don’t improve, or their symptoms worsen, or they begin to experience sadness for no apparent reason.  They are likely experiencing clinical depression if they have feelings of sadness and at least some of the following symptoms:
Difficulties sleeping or sleeping excessively
Weight gain or weight loss
Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
Loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Difficulties making decisions or concentrating
Thoughts of death or suicide and hopelessness about the possibility of                           getting better

If many of these symptoms are present for at least two weeks, then the person may be experiencing a Major Depressive Disorder.  Even if only some of the symptoms are present, but have persisted for more than two or three months without improvement, intervention is likely needed, particularly if there was no precipitating event. 

It’s always a good idea to see a doctor to rule out any physical cause of depression.  Sometimes, thyroid issues, hormone imbalances, and other medical problems can cause mood symptoms.  A physician may also be able to recommend medication, a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist, all of which can help to greatly reduce the symptoms of depression.  Unfortunately, the depression often interferes with the steps that are necessary to recover, which is why assistance can be so helpful.  While medication can help with the biological components, such as improving sleep, appetite, and concentration level, therapy can help to improve coping strategies and self-esteem, as well as help the person again find pleasure in his and her life.