Depression is something almost everyone wonders about at one time or another in their lives. People used to think that “the blues” were always just sadness and never even considered the possibility that it might be depression.  People were told to “get over it” or just change their attitude and outlook to being positive. There was no broad public understanding or what depression was and people who went to psychiatrists or psychologists were viewed as “crazy.”  These days there are more ads on TV for depression than almost anything else related to health and these ads try to educate the public about the signs and symptoms of depression. So how can we tell the difference?

Sadness is a natural human emotion that happens when people suffer a loss or disappointment. Losing a job, the breakup of a relationship, the death of a friend or failing a class are all situations that can evoke sadness.  Usually sadness is a temporary emotion that passes fairly quickly and most of the time people who are sad can usually keep up with their daily responsibilities and still find some things they can enjoy in spite of the loss.

Grief is a more intense reaction to loss that usually happens in response to death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a serious illness in you or a family member, a disabling accident or similar tragedies.  Grief includes sadness but lasts longer and is more intense. Grief is more likely to disrupt your relationships and life activities for a period of time. Sometimes there are physical and medical problems that occur along with grief and grief can also be emotionally and physically exhausting. Sometimes a person can get “stuck” in grief and it can turn into depression.

Depression may look similar to sadness and grief but there is a lot more to it. Depression is an illness that can be triggered by situational stressors or biological changes in brain functioning. The main symptoms can include chronic feelings of sadness, a decrease or absence of interest and pleasure in activities a person usually enjoys, isolation, loss of motivation, problems with concentration and memory, and sleep difficulties. Other symptoms include overeating or under eating, unexplained feelings of fatigue and exhaustion and sometimes physical symptoms like anxiety, heart palpitations or general achiness.  Symptoms vary from person to person and not everyone has all of the symptoms of depression.

Depression often has a genetic component but this is not always the case. Treatments include counseling and/or medication. Some depression is triggered by hormone imbalances, thyroid imbalances or other medical conditions. If you suspect medical issues, these conditions should be evaluated by a medical physician to rule out medical problems as a reason for the depression. Substance abuse can also trigger depression. Substance abuse related depression will not get better by counseling or medicine unless the addiction is also treated.  The good news is that there are many effective treatments for depression. If you are unsure whether what your husband is experiencing is sadness, grief or depression, consult a mental health professional and/or your physician to get more information and an accurate diagnosis.