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How to know the difference between depression and the blues – and when

you need to get help.

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Feeling down on occasion is normal. Some people get the blues due to the season or something going on in their lives, like the loss of a loved one or a job. But when temporary bouts of sadness, hopelessness, irritability or disinterest last for more than two weeks, it may be more than just the blues. It could be depression.

Depression is a medical condition that can be debilitating. In fact, it can even be life-threatening. Research shows there’s a strong link between depression and suicide. But more than half of those who die by suicide were not previously diagnosed with a mental health condition. That’s why it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis if you’re depressed.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and rates have been rising sharply in recent years. Suicide rates increased by 25% from 1999 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2016 alone, 45,000 lives were lost to suicide.

Unfortunately, there’s no single test you can take to get a definitive answer about whether or not you have depression and what the cause of it may be. When depression strikes, doctors first usually probe what’s going on in your mind or brain first. But what’s going on in your head is not always to blame for your depression.

“It is important that patients who think they have depression, anxiety or another mental health problem discuss his or her concerns with a healthcare provider. There is a large stigma associated with these kinds of issues that a lot of people are hesitant to talk with anyone. This only delays diagnosis and treatment and leads to worse outcomes.”

-Ricky C. Winburn, MD, Internal Medicine 

Depression can be caused by other health conditions or can be a side effect from medication you are taking. In fact, up to 15% of all depression cases can be attributed to these causes. It can also occur more often in people with certain medical issues. For example, depression is twice as likely to occur in people with heart disease. Part of your evaluation will include reviewing your entire health history.

Once you know you have depression, it’s time to find an effective way to treat it. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach that will help everyone. Treatments can range from psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy to medication, light therapy or exercise. What’s effective for one person may not be effective for another and it may take some trial and error to find the treatment that works best for you. But getting screened is the first step to getting the help you need.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Date Last Reviewed: July 24, 2018

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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