Everyone feels sad or blue occasionally, but some people feel down more often than is healthy. While ordinary sadness passes with time, depression is more serious and lasts longer. It can be hard to pinpoint the cause of depression. It can be related to emotional trauma, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, or another significant life change. The good news is that help is readily available for those who struggle with depression.

It’s possible to overcome depression with therapy or medication recommended by your doctor. The support of family and friends can also play an important role. To diagnose depression, you must learn to recognize its symptoms and how it’s distinguished from normal feelings of sadness.

There are many symptoms associated with depression. Symptoms include:

  • decreased enjoyment or no pleasure in daily activities
  • persistent feelings of melancholy, or being sad or tearful throughout the day
  • sleeping problems, including trouble sleeping, insomnia, or an increased desire to sleep (hypersomnia)
  • fatigue or decreased energy
  • observable restlessness or slowed behavior
  • weight or appetite changes, such as weight loss without dieting or weight gain
  • excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • indecisiveness or difficulty concentrating
  • recurring thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or attempting suicide

To diagnose depression, your healthcare provider will consider your symptoms in relation to the symptoms of depression listed in a medical guide called the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” or DSM-5. It’s published by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-5 is the authoritative guide to diagnosing mental disorders in the United States. It contains disorder descriptions and symptom information. The DSM-5 states that at least five or more of the above symptoms must be present during the same two-week period to confirm a diagnosis of depression.

Along with that information, there are a number of medical tests your doctor can use to help confirm a diagnosis and rule out other conditions, including:

  • Questionnaire: Your doctor or primary care physician may ask you how you’ve been feeling about your moods lately, and they may ask you to take a short questionnaire to help identify any symptoms.
  • Physical exam: This is used to gather information about your heart rate, blood pressure, and other vital signs.
  • Lab tests: A complete blood count test and thyroid test can help rule out other conditions, such as thyroid problems, which can cause symptoms similar to depression.
  • Psychological tests: Your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or other mental health provider who can administer a more detailed psychological evaluation to assess your feelings, thoughts, and patterns of behavior that may indicate depression.

There are many different types of depression, and these tests can help diagnose a specific form of depression. Depression can manifest in many ways, including:

  • anxiety
  • melancholy
  • mania
  • atypical features
  • psychosis
  • catatonia

Depression often goes undiagnosed. See a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms. It’s important to get a diagnosis from a doctor or healthcare professional and to not self-diagnose.

There are many options available for treating depression, including therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Talk therapy can be very effective in helping with depression. Having a professional who is nonjudgmental listen to your issues can help you get things off your chest and help you explore and realize some of your feelings. Talk therapy can help you:

  • find new ways of dealing with negative thoughts and behaviors
  • improve your relationships with other people
  • explore and look into yourself and your past to find the root cause of issues

If your depression is severe, your doctor may prescribe medication and refer you to a clinical psychologist or other licensed therapist.

Additionally, there are many natural remedies that are reported to help relieve symptoms of depression, including:

  • St. John’s wort
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • zinc

Be sure you talk to your doctor about adding any herbs or supplements to your treatment plan.

If you have suicidal thoughts, there are support groups and hotlines that can help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has many resources for support groups across the country. Also, the National Suicide Lifeline, at: 1-800-273-8255 OR 1-800-273-TALK, can provide support and help. You’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, available 24 hours a day.

When you learn the difference between depression and everyday blues, you’ll be better equipped to decide whether you need help from a professional. There’s no need to suffer in silence. There are many effective forms of treatment for depression. Psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both can help you start to feel better within a few weeks.

If you think you may be experiencing depression, don’t delay. Talk to your doctor, psychologist, or other mental health counselor. Your healthcare provider can help you determine whether you have depression and possible treatment options.