What is Clinical Depression?

What is Clinical Depression?

In the normal course of life, everyone has times when they feel somewhat less than happy and optimistic. Although many people attribute their feelings of sadness or lethargy to the onset of depression, it’s important to understand that medical professionals have specific indicators that they use to make a diagnosis of clinical depression. When you know more about what’s wrong you can make it right.

Let’s start with the word “clinical.” By definition, a condition is clinical if it is directly observed. That is, the professional does not count on a patient’s self-report but is more likely to check for symptoms of depression that can be observed and documented. Clinical depression is a phrase used to describe a condition serious enough to require clinical (professional) and possibly pharmacological intervention. Clinical depression, according to medical sources, lasts more than two weeks and is usually not precipitated by anything external.

For example, if you’ve just lost your job and have no money in your bank account, you may feel stressed, anxious, panicked, and unable to function. However, most of your friends and family would reasonably conclude that it’s quite normal to feel that way. Although your reaction might match the symptoms of depression, a traumatic event precipitated them and your state of anxiety would not be diagnosed as clinical depression. Clearly, a new and better job would probably end the negative feelings in an instant.

Depression in Our Culture

Few diseases are as misunderstood by the general public as clinical depression. We misuse terms that describe symptoms of depression every day—”That kid’s completely manic,” “The boss went bipolar on me again,” or “Sure you’re depressed—your dog just died.”

Major depression strikes a surprisingly high percentage of the population: the estimated number of people who will suffer from serious depression during their lives is a staggering 20%.

At first glance, these people could be suffering from major depression, but with no information on causes and duration, the terms “manic” or “bipolar” are just cultural labels. On subsequent pages, we’ll explain exactly what those terms mean.

People who suffer from depression are not “just sad” or “weak” or “grief-stricken.” Grief is thought to be one of the leading causes of depression, but the act of grieving is often appropriate and healthy, and not a sure indicator of actual depression. And grief is not just about the impact of the death of a family member or friend. Many people grieve when they lose pets, jobs, opportunities, and even for political or social causes.

For four years, Duncan worked hard earning his doctoral degree. His graduation day was one of the high points of his life. Within two weeks, Duncan, who hadn’t yet landed the faculty position of his dreams, fell into major depression. Eventually, he was diagnosed and treated for depression.

Somehow, the absence of an intense and routine workload left him without an anchor and clinical depression set in. Since that time, Duncan has noticed this phenomenon in many of his friends who experienced drastic life changes.

Symptoms of Depression

-irritability
-sadness
-exhaustion
-low self-image
-destructive self-criticism
-shame
-guilt
-manic behavior
-suicidal thoughts or acts.

Possible Causes of Depression

-genetics
-personal experience
-chemical imbalances in the brain
-extreme stress.

Clinical Depression is not

-sadness
-a sign of a weak will
-“just” grief
-incurable.

No one is entirely certain whether personal experience or biochemical imbalances cause depression. Both therapy and drug treatments have proven effective in combating major depression, so the answer may lie somewhere in between.

Recent studies have indicated that imbalances in the brain’s serotonin levels can cause depression. Serotonin is one of the key mood regulators in the human brain. Too little serotonin leads to depression, and irregular serotonin levels contribute to bipolar disorders or manic depression. A new family of pharmaceuticals called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help regulate the brain’s serotonin levels, and bring relief to those suffering from depression.