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What is depression and how is it different to normal mood variation?

This article explains some of the ways in which depression differs from normal fluctuations in mood
Two apples - one with a happy face and one with a sad face
© University of York

Depression is a clinical condition with 10 common symptoms. Not everyone with depression will experience all of these symptoms.

Two key symptoms of depression

To recognise depression, we initially look out for two key symptoms.

  1. Feeling low, sad or irritable for most of the time.
  2. Losing interest and having no pleasure in day-to-day activities, including interactions with other people.

If someone experiences one or both of these symptoms, then we need to check for eight additional symptoms that may suggest the presence of depression.

Eight more symptoms of depression to look out for

The eight additional symptoms that are commonly present in depression can be split into two groups:

The first group includes four symptoms that affect how our mind works.

  • Not being able to concentrate, pay attention, or make decisions.
  • Blaming or disliking ourselves a lot
  • Feeling hopelessness about the future
  • Thinking of death or about harming ourselves

The second group includes four symptoms that affect how our body works.

  • Having trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much.
  • No appetite and losing weight, OR, eating too much and gaining weight.
  • Feeling sluggish and slowed down; OR feeling agitated and on edge.
  • Having no energy or feeling tired all the time.

How is depression different to just having a bad day or a bad week?

We all feel low, irritable or unmotivated sometimes. When these feelings persist for many weeks and start affecting our ability to look after ourselves, work, socialise with other people, plan for the future or do things that are important in day-to-day life, then we need to look closer for symptoms of depression.

Depression is diagnosed by a health professional who checks for symptoms of depression and for changes in a person’s life and routines. The professional may also take note of how the person looks and acts during their discussion and may also speak to close family members. Finally, the professional checks for the presence of other conditions that may cause the same symptoms as depression.

Over to you

Have you ever noticed how your mood changes? Have you ever experienced a time when you felt depressed? Can you think of a time when you felt sad or demoralised? Take a few moments to think about the 10 symptoms of depression. Do you recognise any of these in yourself when you are having a bad day?

If you choose to share anything in the discussion then please make sure that you do not include any sensitive or personally identifiable information. Also please be respectful of any other opinions that are expressed.

© University of York
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Introduction to Behavioural Activation for Depression

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