Is it depression or just the blues?

Times of stress, sadness and anxiety are common to everyone – it’s part of life. These feelings may coincide with the loss of a job, when children move away from home, during divorce and remarriage and with a death in the family. But when does it become depression? While the blues tend to last between a few days and a few weeks, depression is a serious medical condition that can be disabling, with symptoms that include mood, physical and cognitive changes that prevent a person from functioning normally, for two weeks or more.

Though depression is very treatable, less than half of those suffering from depression seek treatment despite the fact that a combination of psychotherapy and medication works in more than 90 percent of cases. Screening for depression and other mood disorders is important because it allows health care providers to identify warning signs early on, making treatment more effective. Depression screenings can help you determine whether what you are experiencing is a simple case of the blues or something more serious.

“Left undiagnosed and untreated, depression can last for years and can creep into all aspects of your life,” says Dr. Douglas Jacobs, founder of Screening for Mental Health, a nonprofit organization that promotes the improvement of mental health education. “This is exactly why it’s so important to screen for, diagnose and treat depression early on – no one should needlessly suffer when successful treatment is available.”

But how do you know if you are one of more than 19 million Americans suffering from depression? You may be depressed if you are experiencing the following:

* Changes in appetite that result in weight losses or gains unrelated to dieting

* Insomnia or oversleeping

* Loss of energy or increased fatigue

* Restlessness or irritability

* Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt

* Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions

* Thoughts of death or suicide or attempts at suicide

It’s important to know that you are not alone if you are struggling with depression, and depression does not discriminate. The disease affects men, women, children, the elderly and people of all races and sexual orientations. Experts project that Major Depressive Illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children by 2020. If you think you might be affected by depression, you can get back to loving life by taking a mental health assessment and, if necessary, seeking the proper treatment.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, you can visit www.helpyourselfhelpothers.org, to complete an anonymous self-assessment and find clinics in your area that offer in-person mental health screening. You can also identify clinics in your area that will be taking part in National Depression Screening Day on Oct. 7.

If you or someone you love is in immediate danger because of thoughts of suicide, call 911 immediately. If you are not in immediate danger but need to talk to someone, you can call the national suicide prevention line at (800) 273-8255.