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Am I clinically depressed or have I just been in a really bad mood all my life?

answered 08:47 PM EST, Wed June 12, 2013
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anonymous anonymous
I am an unhappy person. I spend more time each day generally feeling unhappy than happy. This is how I have always been. Does this mean I have depression? Is depression exactly the same thing as unhappiness or are they somehow different? I am a little confused about this.

Art Matthews Says...

Your post reminds me of a line from the original Steel Magnolias in which Shirley McLean's character "Weeza" says emphatically, "I'm not crazy, I've just been in a very bad mood for the last 40 years!" Feeling depressed and having depression are not the same things, but they do feel very similar. Now, I'm going to say something that might sound a bit controversial, but being unhappy is not necessarily a bad thing. Unhappiness often drives us to identify problems, set goals and seek solutions. "Necessity is the mother of invention." When man was sick and tired of being cold, he created blankets and built homes and learned to control fire. The aim becomes to resolve the unhappiness by changing what we have some how. But when we learn to accept the unhappiness as a fact of life that cannot be changed and must just be endured, we don't seek to resolve anything and we become trapped in our own negativity.

To meet the clinical definition of depression, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Diseases and Disorders IV-TR says at least 5 of the following criteria must be met and one of the symptoms must be a depressed mood or loss of interest.

1. Depressed mood much of the time for at least 2 weeks.

2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities.

3. Signiifcant (5% body weight) weight loss or gain, or increase or decrease in appetite.

4. Insomnia or hypersomnia.

5. Psychomotor agitation (restlessness) or retardation (becoming a sloth).

6. Fatigue or loss of energy.

7. Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt.

8. Diminished concentration or indecisiveness.

9. Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Having some of these symptoms or having pervasive depression could be signs of something called "dysthymia," a chronic condition in which a person feels pervasively low; but the symptoms are not as severe as with major or clinical depression. Of course, there are physical conditions (hypothyroidism, diabetes, etc) that can affect mood and functioning like depression, and alcohol or substance abuse and dependence can also cause people to have symptoms of depression and low mood. It's important to see a doctor to rule out some of those physical conditions that may also be in play here.

I guess inevitably you should look at how your "bad mood" affects your functioning. Are you restricted in meeting your daily responsibilities and roles? Does it prevent you from enjoying your life, activities, and having meaningful relationships? What if you had a magic wand and tomorrow your "unhappiness" went away? What would you be doing differently? How would your goals change? Who would you see yourself to be?

I often joke that my role as a counselor is to comfort the distressed and distress the comfortable. The latter happens when people become aware that they are unhappy but they don't really want to try changing or they believe they can't. For those folks, I have to amplify their distress until it's bad enough that they have no choice but to change, regardless of how scarey or futile it might appear to be.

You, dear anonymous, you may need further distressing before you realize how much of your life you are wasting living unhappy and you seek out help and begin to make changes. There is much more choice involved here than you maybe know or care to admit. Think about what you are doing to yourself, what your sadness or unhappiness is doing to you and those who love you. Dare to dream of a time when you can be happy and motivate yourself to get help. Does it matter whether you have a situational unhappiness or you have "clinical depression"? No, what matters is that you can change your life and be more content, and yes, even happy.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step.

Begin.

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Page last updated Jun 12, 2013

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