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How Do I Know If I'm Depressed?

Have you ever asked yourself this question? If so, you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health [1, 2] approximately 18.8 million Americans suffer from some form of depressive illness in any one-year period. Also, we hear the term "depressed", "clinically depressed", and "major depression" all the time. The terms are commonly used in the media, such as in television commercials that advertise the newest and latest anti-depressant medications. It is not surprising then, that we may wonder if the term applies to us, or the extent of our problem when we hear the terms used so frequently, and, all too often, too lightly.

Being depressed is much different than feeling a bit "down" for the day . Depression refers to when a person experiences a significant change in their mood, accompanied by any combination of other symptoms. To help determine whether you are depressed, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has my appetite changed from what it normally is?
  • Has my sleep changed? Am I sleeping much less than usual or much more than usual?
  • Am I feeling excessively tired during the day?
  • Have I lost weight (not due to dieting) or gained weight?
  • Is it a challenge to stay focused on what I'm doing because my mind wanders (such as reading or watching television)?
  • Have I lost interest in things that I used to enjoy doing?
  • Am I feeling bad about myself?
  • Have I had thoughts of wanting to die or kill myself? (See last paragraph for further information.)

This list is just a way to screen yourself for some of the common symptoms of depression. However, it is not definitive and you should always consult a professional to determine whether you do indeed suffer from some form of depression, and to find out what treatment options are available.

If you are experiencing some of these symptoms or think that you are depressed, help is available. Counseling, and sometimes a combination of counseling and medication, can help alleviate or substantially reduce your symptoms. It can also help you feel better and get your life back on track. There is no shame in seeking help at a time when you are struggling. Many people seek counseling each year. Also, you have the option of not telling people you are going to counseling if you're concerned about what they might think.

If you are having thoughts of harming yourself, you should seek help immediately. You can:

  • Go to your local emergency room
  • Contact your local mental health crisis center
  • Talk to a trusted friend, family member, pastor or medical professional right away to help you know where to turn
  • Contact the crisis hotline in your area (or call 1-800-273-TALK, which is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number [3] which will connect you to a Resource in your area)


  1. Robins LN, Reigier DA (Eds). Psychiatric Disorders in America, The Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study, 1990; New York: The Free Press. Cited in www.nimh.nih.gov.

  2. http://www.nimh.nih.gov

  3. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Karen M. Desmarais, Ph.D.

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