Depression is a complex condition characterized by profound sadness, lethargy, feelings of worthlessness, and a loss of interest in social activities. These feelings can last for two weeks or go on for decades. The difference between the blues and clinical depression is one of length and severity of symptoms.
"If you've gotten to the point where you're looking up depression on the computer, then there's a good chance it's a real depression, not the blues," says Tracey Lipsig Kite, MSW, a licensed therapist in private practice in Evanston, Ill. "If you really are to the point where you think you might need therapy, you're probably right."
Physical symptoms of depression
Depression doesn't always look or feel like a dark mood.
"Irritability is one of the most under-recognized symptoms of major depression," says Rakesh Jain, MD, director of psychopharmacology at R/D Clinical Research Center, in Lake Jackson, Tex.
Doctors also often overlook physical symptoms, says Dr. Jain. Some 67% to 69% of people who receive a diagnosis of major depression also have muscle and joint pain, headaches, and fatigue.
Sharon Charles Haznedar, an administrative director for behavioral health services at New York City's Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers and a psychiatric nurse practitioner, says depression is insidious because it often renders victims unable to ask for help: "I've had depressed patients tell me that they need a plan just to walk across the room."