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  • Writer's pictureDr. Elena Duong

Am I Depressed?

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

The topic of mental health is slowly becoming more mainstream, which is a good change due to our culture of mental health stigma. With the recent introduction of mental health conversations, the media and popular culture often confuses the meaning of depression and sadness. Everyone has experiences of sadness. It is one of the universal emotions, but not everyone experiences clinical depression.

What is Depression?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (2018), they define depression (also known as clinical depression) as a serious clinical mood disorder. It affects our daily functioning, including our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, as well as basic necessities like eating and sleeping.

This YouTube video has a great description of what depression is like. It is told through the eyes of a journalist with clinical depression. The video may be triggering for some folks. If you feel like it is too overwhelming to watch, you do not need to watch the video.

Signs of Depression

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), the following are the criteria for major depressive disorder/episode:

  • Five or more of the following symptoms occurring most of the day nearly every day for at least 2 weeks and causes significant distress or impaired functioning:

    • Depressed mood or loss of interest/pleasure

    • Changes in appetite

    • Significant weight changes

    • Sleep Issues

    • Psychomotor agitation or retardation

    • Fatigue or loss of energy

    • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt

    • Diminished ability to think or trouble concentrating

    • Recurrent suicidal ideations or suicide attempt(s)

There are a variety of depression-associated diagnoses. Most of the depressive disorders have similar symptoms to those present in major depressive disorder/episode. The time period and severity of symptoms are usually key in differentiating the disorders.

Depression may present differently in everyone. Certain cultures, such as Asian cultures and other minority groups, tend to experience more physical symptoms of depression. Some may also still function decently well at work, but they are debilitated at home or with loved ones. This can be seen as being in bed right after work and all weekend before going to work again.

Causes of Depression

There are multiple factors contributing to depression, such as significant traumas, ongoing stress, isolation, grief and loss, substance abuse, certain medical conditions, medications, and genetics, including brain chemistry. Most of the time, people experiencing depression have lower levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain, known to help with mood regulation.

How to Cope with Depression

For folks who are struggling and may have some symptoms of depression, this section is for you:

  • Keep track of your emotions/moods and negative thoughts.

    • Is something triggering it?

    • Is it something you can solve? If so, do so.

    • If you can’t resolve it, is there another way of looking at it?

      • This may decrease your distress.

  • Do self-care. You may be experiencing depression due to burnout, which means you are neglecting yourself and your needs.

    • Eat regular and balanced meals/snacks daily

    • Make sure you are having quality sleep by engaging in good sleep hygiene

    • Engage in physical activity

    • Set aside time for yourself

      • Example: Giving yourself 5-10 minutes daily to do a breathing exercise

    • Set boundaries, so you are not overextending yourself

    • Seek support from loved ones

  • Consider medication. This is for those who have a history of depression within themselves or family since it means there is likely a genetic component.

    • This option is also for people with moderately severe to severe depression since a combination of psychotherapy and medication have shown to be effective for those levels of depression.

    • Psychotherapy alone has been shown effective for those with mild to moderate depressive symptoms.

If you have clinical depression, we highly recommend you seek professional mental health treatment. Many individuals struggle with mild depression on their own and do not seek help until the severity increases to moderate or even severe levels. Prevention is easier to implement than treating something when it is already severe.

Depression is a serious mental illness with multiple factors triggering it. With COVID, we have seen multiple clients relapse from depression or have their first depressive episode. We encourage everyone to take care of themselves whether it means taking breaks, taking medication, or seeking support. We don’t want anybody's symptoms to worsen.

If you are just noticing some depressive symptoms, look over this blog and try out some of the suggestions. If they don’t work or your symptoms are clinical level, please make an appointment with a mental health professional for personalized help.

If you are struggling with your depression and want to seek therapeutic services with us, feel free to reach out to us through our site.

Stay tuned. The next topic is "Do I Have Burnout?"


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, February). Depression: Overview.

Written by Elena Duong, Psy.D.

Edited by Susanna La, Ph.D.

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