“I’m so depressed” has become a familiar expression when we’re feeling a bit down in the dumps, stressed or anxious. But how do you know if what you’re feeling is more intense than a low mood and requires professional advice?
When you’re not feeling yourself, it can be hard to differentiate between a low mood and depression. Many people compare emotions to a spectrum of colour – when we’re feeling positive and happy, our emotions fall on the light end of the colour spectrum. Inversely, our negative and unhappy emotions will fall on the dark end of the spectrum.
Nearly all of us will experience a low mood at some point in our lifetime.
Low mood can leave people feeling tired, irritable and sullen and is usually triggered by a specific life event, such as work pressures, financial worries or poor health. For some people, these bouts of low mood are short-term and generally manageable.
However, for others, these feelings can continue over a prolonged period of time and can begin to have an impact on our ability to function, which is when these feelings can take a more problematic manifestation in our lives.
So how can you tell if what you’re experiencing is fleeting or something more severe that you should pay attention to?
Firstly we need to be able to identify the difference between the two.
What is low mood?
Low mood can be described as a short period of feeling tired, frustrated or having low self-esteem. These feelings tend to dissipate within a few weeks and improve when the initial issues have been resolved. Actions such as getting more sleep, exercising or talking problems and worries through with friends and family can help to alleviate these feelings of low mood.
Although a low mood can leave us feeling drained and not operating at our peak, it is not a psychological illness and tends to reflect the state of current events in our lives – passing over time.
What is depression?
Unlike a low mood, depression develops if a range of stress factors occur at the same time and continues over a prolonged period, lasting over two weeks or more. When we feel depressed, we tend to experience a persistent low mood, a lack of sex drive and a loss of interest in activities we would have previously enjoyed. When left untreated, depression can leave us feeling extremely isolated and completely withdrawn from the world around us and is often the leading cause of suicide.
How do I know when I should get help?
Depression can affect people to different degrees, but if you find yourself unable to function in daily life or withdrawing from friends and family, it may be time to get help. Depression is the predominant mental health problem worldwide, reportedly affecting over 3 million people in the UK alone, so it is most important to remember that you are not alone.
Although recovery can feel like a long and unachievable process when you have depression, it is important to understand that help is the key way to get you back to feeling your best. As an evidence-based practice, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, in particular, is a highly recommended treatment for depression.
The independent organisation, National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, continuously recommend CBT for a wide range of mental health issues, and research shows that CBT offers long-term benefits for depression sufferers.