Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 16 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What is depression, anyway?

Last week I posed a simple question, "Do you refer to yourself as depressed?" While a few people answered the question, the actual topic discussion continues through today on my site as well as others. I attempted to explain my reasons behind the question in the following two posts. This is one of my "soap box" issues (see here if you'd like a hint at one of my other sudsy talking, er...shouting points). That is, depressed is a feeling. Depression is an illness. For this reason, I never refer to myself as depressed.

Depression is an illness that screws up my brain, but it does not preclude happiness. In other words, I don't have to be depressed (feeling) to experience depression (illness). I can experience happiness and still have depression, just as my neighbor can experience increased energy due to improved blood counts and still have cancer. Cancer is a broad category of illness. There are certain shared characteristics which define an illness as cancer, but it is unlikely that any two cancers are exactly the same in symptomotology or in patient experience. So, too, it is with depression. Depression is a broad category of illness. There is commonality between each of us, but we are not all afflicted with identical symptoms, and our individual experiences may widely vary.

That got me thinking. Perhaps it is time to define depression--the illness. According to the DSM-IV, there are 15 separate diagnosis codes (i.e. diagnoses) for depression, from Depression NOS (not otherwise specified) up to Major Depressive Disorder, Severe, Recurrent with Psychotic Features. To qualify for the depression label a person must either have a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities consistently for at least a 2 week period. The mood change cannot be caused by chemical abuse (i.e. alcohol) or a medical condition. And the person's functioning must be impaired as a direct result of the change in their mood. In addition, there are nine specific criteria an MD will look at when diagnosing unipolar depression. I learned a patient will receive the diagnosis of Major Depression if 7 of those 9 criteria are met. Sources on the web simply state "a majority" of the criteria must fit. PsychCentral has a nice summary of depression here, and AllPsych Online succinctly describes depression here.

But then again, you can find those technical descriptions just about everywhere! I think we learn more from listening to each other. I invite you all to share your personal depression definitions here. Leave them as comments, and maybe, with permission, I will post some of them, too. As we get more and more descriptions, we may see how variable this singularly defined experience (depression = depressed) actually is.

I'll include my experience.


BPD in OKC said...

I've been battling depression since I was 12 years old (officially since I was 16; that's when it was diagnosed). I'm 26 now, so I've been fighting it for 14 years.

I think what I say depends on who I'm talking to (I'm depressed verses I suffer from depression). Since I've been fighting it for so long, I usually say "I'm depressed." After 14 years, it's hard not to identify myself as being depressed. I don't know anything other than depression.

As for my definition of what depression is... It's a life-altering state of sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness that lasts for a long time. For me life is depression. (Sad but true)

etta said...

Thanks BPD. I appreciate your voice of experience. I'm sorry you've struggled for so long.

Anonymous said...

I think depression is somethiing different to each of us. As Etta said you can be happy but still be depressed. I took Thurs and Friday off to go stay with my daughter and granddaugters, I thought it would help cheer me up. even though they made me laugh I had a feeling come over me I wanted to go home...I don't want to be here, I have been suffering from depression for over 20 years, and I hate it...Im still Hiding Behind My Shadow....Mary

Anonymous said...

Etta Sorry I didnt mean for it to be anonymous. It's nippercat ...take care...Mary

Maia said...

Just found your blog - thanks for writing. I say "I have depression and PTSD" usually, but occasionally I'll say "I'm feeling depressed", especially when talking to family members. They know it's different from being just sad for me.

deepblue said...

I'm new to your blog as well. My husband is a runner - so it feels familiar to me (as a spectator). :)
The depression and anxiety is also familiar - but it's such a relief to read about other people's experiences.
I definitely would say "I have depression" (if I ever do say it) rather than "I am depressed" because there is such a difference between depression as a feeling (what I call the little d) and Depression the illness (with the big D). I wish we used 2 different terms for them, so it wouldn't be used so interchangably.

etta said...

Hi Maia and deepblue! Welcome, and thanks for your voices. I'm glad you've found the discussion helpful.
deepblue, I love the "little d" vs. "big D" concept. Do you mind if I use that?
Thanks again-

deepblue said...

Feel free! I'm sure I probably heard it from someone else somewhere along the line. I look forward to your future posts.

Colby said...

Thanks for your post. Depression is a serious illness and unfortunately goes untreated way too often. It’s not something that you can just “snap out of”. Sometimes it's hard to identify depression symptoms. There are various types of treatments for depression. Silver Hill Hospital's website has some good information and resources available.

Parag said...

The symptoms of major depressive disorder include those typical of all depressions...sadness, emptiness, loss of interest and pleasure, irritability, anger, changes in appetite, sleep problems, restlessness, slow movement and thinking, fatigue, worthlessness and guilt, poor concentration, thoughts about death and suicide. These symptoms can be very severe.

Major depressive disorder