Based on Diagnostic criteria from: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)
You may be feeling “out of sorts”, down, not quite yourself. You don’t have your normal energy and motivation and somehow seem to have lost your “joy for life.” How do you know when this is just a passing slump in your life or if you are really depressed? This article provides you with some guidelines and information to help you make these kinds of decisions to ensure you get the professional help you need.
First of all when asking yourself ‘am I depressed,” you need to rule out any underlying physical cause for your low mood. The reasons for depressed mood may be as simple as prolonged sleep deprivation or the side effects of medication. There are numerous health problems associated with depressed mood including problems in thyroid function and vitamin deficiencies. It is therefore essential to have a thorough physical examination including blood tests to either rule out or appropriately treat any possible physical causes of a depressed mood.
Having done this you can start to ask yourself if the depressed mood you are experiencing is actually a mood disorder. The criteria used to answer this kind of question are based on the signs and symptoms identified as features of a depressive episode in the the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a classification and diagnostic manual developed by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSMV is based on research and is intermittently updated. While there are other diagnostic manuals (i.e. ICD10) or other methods of diagnosing a depressive episode, the DSMV is the most widely accepted diagnostic tool in the USA.
So let’s take a look at the symptoms that the DSMV specifies to answer the question ‘am I depressed?” Most commonly a depressed person will present with a significant reduction in mood experiencing feelings of sadness and tearfulness almost daily, and express a lowered interest in and pleasure from life. They would be struggling to function in day to day life, experiencing significant impairment in social, emotional and occupational functioning.
You would need to be experiencing at least 5 of the 9 symptoms listed below on an almost daily basis for a time period of at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression to be made:
- A depressed or irritable mood whether either you yourself are aware of feelings such as sadness and emptiness, or where others notice your depressed mood as evidenced by for instance tearfulness or snappiness.
- A reduced interest or pleasure taken in most activities most of the time.
- A significant shift in appetite or weight where you are eating noticeably more or less than you usually would.
- A change in sleep pattern where you are either struggling to sleep (insomnia) or have an increased need to sleep (hypersomnia).
- A shift in level of activity to either a reduction of or slowing down in your activity or an increase in your level of activity, a kind of agitation or restlessness.
- A reduction in your level of energy or general weariness.
- Experiencing feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
- Struggling to pay attention, think and make decisions.
- Thoughts of death and/or suicidal thoughts and/or an actual plan to take your own life.
If you find yourself answering yes to five or more of these questions, you may well be experiencing a depressive episode. It’s essential that you get a formal diagnosis from a qualified health practitioner and the appropriate treatment that you need. While you may indeed be depressed you may also be experiencing other challenges such as bereavement or mental health problems (e.g. substance abuse or another mood disorder such as mania) which may coexist with or imitate depression. Contact your doctor and share the symptoms you have noticed so that a suitable diagnosis and treatment plan can be formulated for you.
Dr. Stacey Leibowitz-Levy is a highly experienced psychologist with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology (Cum Laude) and a PhD in the area of stress and its relation to goals and emotion. She works with adults, teens and children within her areas of expertise. Take a look at her LinkedIn profile