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Is It Depression or Just the Blues?

Posted on Jul 27, 2015

 

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Feeling sad on occasion is a normal part of life, but how do you know when a blue mood has crossed into depression?

“Depression is a very common condition, especially in women,” Kimberly Jong, M.D., a Palo Alto Medical Foundation internal medicine physician, says. “One in five women will have depression at some point in their lives.”

Symptoms of depression include low mood, sleep deficit or excessive sleep, lethargy and fatigue, loss of interest in usual activities, inability to concentrate and feelings of worthlessness or guilt. The key to knowing the difference between the normal ups and downs of life and clinical depression is persistence of symptoms. The technical diagnosis for depression is when symptoms last longer than two weeks.

How to Get Help

If you’ve been struggling with lingering feelings of sadness and despair, but you aren’t sure whether to manage it on your own or seek help, the best place to start is with your primary care or family medicine doctor. Primary care physicians now screen for depression during routine annual exams. Despite lingering societal stigma, mental health conditions such as depression are health issues that can be diagnosed and treated by your doctor, just like bronchitis or an ear infection.

“We have a screening questionnaire to assess if a patient has depression and to identify the severity,” Dr. Jong says.

A Treatable Condition

The good news: depression is highly treatable. “If you are diagnosed with mild to moderate depression, your primary care doctor can prescribe medications to treat it,” Dr. Jong says. If a patient with depression does not show improvement with medication or has thoughts of suicide, Dr. Jong refers the person to a psychiatrist who has specialty training in mental health.

“The best outcomes for treating depression occur with a combination of medication and psychotherapy,” Dr. Jong says.

If you are depressed, following the basic tenets of healthy self-care is also important. Exercise, eating right and getting enough sleep can all help ward off depression, boost a passing low mood and improve mental health while medication is taking effect, which can take four to eight weeks.

The key is to reach out to someone – a doctor, a trusted family member or friend or a counselor – if you are struggling.

“Don’t isolate yourself, and stay in touch with friends, loved ones and your doctor,” Dr. Jong says.

Kimberly Jong, M.D.

Kimberly Jong, M.D.

Kimberly Jong, M.D., is an internal medicine doctor at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.