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What’s the difference between low mood and ‘clinical depression’?

Depression as a term is one that is now very common in our everyday language and can often be used as a way to express feeling low or having a difficult time emotionally. However, this can be confusing and it’s not always clear when it becomes serious enough to seek some extra help.

Essentially depression as a diagnosis (i.e. clinical depression) is a collection of symptoms that include:

  • Feeling low, sad or tearful
  • Experiencing a lack of pleasure from things that you used to enjoy
  • Numb and empty
  • Agitated and irritable
  • Angry
  • Isolated and disconnected from others
  • Low self-esteem / self-worth
  • Guilty and worthless
  • Feeling disconnected from reality
  • Hopeless about the future
  • Having a change in appetite
  • Withdrawing from people and activities
  • Poor concentration
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Using drugs and or alcohol to manage emotions
  • Moving around more slowly, or being more agitated and restless
  • Decreased interest in sex

What is important to look out for is if you find yourself experiencing these symptoms for most of the day every day for a period of more than two weeks. I.e., if it is having an impact on your ability to function day to day and stopping you from living the life that you want to (or normally) live.

The tricky thing is, that ‘normal day to day functioning’ will be different for different people. And with such a huge range of symptoms under the umbrella of ‘depression’, it can look very different in different people. The important thing is not to compare yourself to others, but to think about what is normal for you.

Whilst psychologists do sometimes offer an opinion regarding diagnosis, we are much more interested in hearing about how your difficulties impact on you and your quality of life. Whether you reach criteria for a diagnosis or not, you may still benefit from a talking therapy to help you to live the life that you want to lead.