Where's the line between being down and being depressed?

I think it’s a safe generalization that we all have good days and bad. Sometimes we have a lot more of one than the other. My unprofessional opinion is that it’s normal to have swings in our lives. Rough times, happy times, sad times, angry times, bored times, ambitious times, any other times you care to consider.

So then, when do we pause to consider if we’re in a low period or if we’re actually dealing with depression? I was reading one site that mentioned six months of symptoms. That seemed like an awfully long time to be sad before taking action. On the other hand, if a person is down in the dumps for a few days, there’s no reason to rush out and seek treatment. But where is the line between “that’s life” and depression?

As with any other disease, I expect the sooner you get treatment, the better. Still, you don’t have your gallbladder removed the first time you have heartburn, right? Obviously I have no training or experience with this, and no, I’m not talking about myself. I’m crabby, not depressed. But there’s someone who’s recently seemed more down than usual. I looked up the sypmtoms of depression and this person exhibits maybe 3 or 4 on a list of a dozen - it’s been less than a week. I offer a shoulder and an ear. If it seems to continue, when should I offer the suggestion of seeking help?

For me, depression is more than my usual pessimism. It comes along with an inability to make myself do anything more than get out of bed and drag myself to work. Clean the house? Not interested. Ride my horse? Not interested. The distraction (or perhaps lack of concentration) makes it difficult to even pay my bills. It’s not that I don’t have the money, I just lack the will to write the check (I have put as many of my bills as I could to electronic funds transfer). When I’m in the car I don’t listen to the radio - following the songs seems like too much work and DJ banter goes from the usually annoying to the intolerable. I’m forgetful. I’m not suicidal, but sort of wish for death. It’s inevitable, after all, and I might as well get it over with. It’s not like I’m having loads of fun here. So that’s depression for me.


If you feel down for a long stretch of time, say for more than 2~3 weeks, consider seeking some advice.

If you feel down, don’t have the motivitation to do anything, for the same period of time, consider some help.

If in addition, you got a tense, tight feeling in your chest for no apparent reason (like you run up the stairs or something), consider seeking the advice of a doctor.

Other things that happened in depression includes anxiety attack (everything seems to be wrong all of a sudden and you are afraid with no reason and have a tight feeling in your chest), loss of appetitie, a tendicity to mop about, suddenly finding life pointless and start reading the Straight Dope for hours and hours…

(Er, the last point may not be valid)

Also, if someone is just down in the dumps for a few days, there’s generally a reason. A few bad days at work, or the bills are piling up, or they’re waiting for results from that second pap smear, or the cute guy from the bar didn’t ACTUALLY call.

I have been known to drip tears for three solid days for absolutely no reason. I go outside on a bright, sunny day and it feels as though I’m looking at it through a piece of black tulle. Taking a shower is a Herculean effort because it’s so much work to get dry again. Then I wake up the next day and feel GREAT, I do eight loads of laundry and dust all of the shelves - including the knick-knack shelf. I sweep. I mop. I dust. I vaccuum. Then my husband gets home and I collapse in exhaustion and sleep for three hours even though ten minutes ago I was still bursting with energy.

That? That’s apparently bipolar behavior…but the first half is the depression. It’s not just being down. It’s being apathetic and enervated and there’s no goddamned reason for it…but you just can’t make it STOP. And then it’s perpetuated because you feel like a jerk for being such a downer when there’s nothing actually wrong.

The best answer I can give is this: we all have bad days. Sometimes we have bad weeks. If the bad days never seems to end, you may have a problem. If nothing changes it, you may have a problem.

For example, if you’re down because you brought your favorite food for lunch and someone else ate it, you’re fine. But if you’re eating your favorite food and you’re still down, that could be depression.

It lasts longer than it should and nothing seems to change it.

For me, depression is beyond being sad. It’s numbness, it’s indifference. It’s so far removed from feeling any emotion. It’s prolonged apathy.
I don’t cry much at all… but during those periods of my depression, I would have loved to cry. I would have loved to have felt something. I would have loved to have cared about anything enough to want to cry over it.

Just as our personalities can differ, our symptoms of depression can differ. Hard to say… where the line is for someone else.

best wishes…

OK, another question - does it help to talk to someone? Does it make a difference if a friend or relative just listens, maybe asks questions, but can’t or won’t offer advice?

I remember when I was younger and going thru rough spots, it helped me to write - hence all my morose poetry. But I don’t think I was ever even close to depressed - I was a loner and much less outgoing than I am now. And I don’t think I’d have appreciated anyone telling me what to do about my doldrums, but then it wasn’t depression.

I do appreciate the insight from the responses so far. Hearing personal experiences is more enlightening than reading a dry description on a website.

It helps to talk to someone ~ actually, nothing helps to combat depression (IMHO, IMHO!!) is a friend who really listens, hang around and just, you know, be a friend (include your ususal friendly stuff). It’s tough to be a friend to someone who is depressed (I managed to piss one off to the extent that anytime I exhbit any ‘morbid’ behaviour he would completely shut off)

Be careful of whom you speak to.

Yes, it helps to write down what’s bothering, the emotions and such. I found the Pit to be a great place to rant about it.

When I get really depressed, I don’t want to tell anyone how I’m feeling. I’m worried about what they’ll think about me. I feel weak, useless, worthless, stupid, and feel that if anyone knows how I’m feeling, even if they don’t say anything, deep down they’ll think that way about me too - that they’ll feel contempt and loathing. Yes, I even think my husband and my closest loved ones will think that.

And often, I don’t even know how to fully articulate what’s “wrong”, so it doesn’t feel to me like talking would do any good and thus I don’t want to even go to a therapist or anything. This is why it can be difficult for people to get treated for depression - they just feel “bad” without knowing really why, and thus don’t see much value in talking to a doctor or something. One of the majors I completed in college was psychology, by the way, so intellectually I know about depression. When it happens to you, though, it can be another matter altogether. In my case, I tend to beat myself up for not feeling like I want to see someone about my depression, which only makes it worse.

FCM - What really helps me is if I do stuff even when I don’t want to. Getting out and riding (as long as I don’t get thrown) makes me feel like I accomplished something, like I’ve actually beaten it for a while. Anti-depressants helped, but it takes a while. For me, talking doesn’t really help much, because it just helps you wallow in your misery. And you want to wallow, but that’s just a downward spiral. I think talking can help if you’re feeling lonely or isolated, but if it’s depression, for me, it didn’t help. Right now my house if filthy, but I just can’t seem to do anything when I get home but sit in front of the computer and play endless games of Freecell. Then I look at my dirty house and feel more worthless.

Wow, look at me! I passed 1000 posts!


I have to agree with StGermain, that’s exactly it. Talking to a trained therapist of some kind helps because they have the knowledge to try to help guide you towards better mental health, but generally talking doesn’t unless the friend can somehow gently nudge you towards getting real help. (YMMV.) I often felt like any comments about me needing to do something - even taking out the garbage - were horrible criticisms of me personally.

Managing to actually get something done outside of the usual “need to do this to live and work” can feel great if you don’t fall into the “but I haven’t done ______” trap. You don’t want to do anything productive, so you don’t, and then you beat yourself up for not having done anything, and you feel worse, and then you don’t feel up to being productive…

Plus the whole process of working out of depression can be very painful, especially if you were mostly feeling numb. Starting to feel emotions again can really hurt if your life has unpleasant things going on in it, and that can be enough to scare some people into stopping meds/therapy.

Some questions to ask yourself-

are you sleeping too much or not enough?
gained or lost a significant amount of weight in a short period of time?
feel depressed most of the day on most days?
does your mood cause sizeable problems at work or in relationships?
are you able to enjoy activities that you’ve always liked, or have you lost interest?
have lots of guilt, worry?
ever think about suicide?
feel sluggish, slow, achy, quite a bit?
having difficulty making decisions?

these are all signs of depression (there are more of course) the more you answer yes to, the more depressed you are likely to be (or something, if not depressed)

:smack: Must get thoughts organized before posting…

That being said, FCM, I wouldn’t encourage you to say nothing, by any means. If it seems like the person you know is having trouble functioning or that the sadness/depression is otherwise interfering in that person’s life, then by all means say something. You don’t have to phrase it as being depression unless you think that would help get your point across better, but I wouldn’t see any real harm in gently saying something to the effect of “You’ve seemed really sad lately, and there’s nothing bad about seeing a professional to help you through a rough spot; that’s what they’re there for, not just big problems.” The more you can make it seem like a normal, healthy thing to do, and a common thing, the better.

That accursed game!! When I’m surfing at home, I always have a game in the background, in case a page is slow to load, you know…

Something else I’ve wondered (so much good info here and it’s getting me thinking more) regarding medication. I know someone who’s recently gone on Paxil and it’s made a world of difference. Whether cause or effect, this person has since had some major life changes for the better. Can that lead to not needing the meds any longer? Can one ever safely stop taking antidepressants?

Ferret Herder - one thing that makes me reluctant to broach the subject of depression is knowing that therapy still carries a stigma for some people. “Why are you going to a shrink? Are you crazy?!?” It’s a dangerously personal subject, seems to me.

FCM, I definitely know how true that is. I majored in psych, I know how various mental illnesses are just that, illnesses that often have a biological/physical component. And yet when I’m feeling really bad, I still often don’t want to get help. That’s how nasty this can be.

If you think you’re close enough to the possibly depressed person, consider phrasing it as a “counselor” or “therapist”, not a shrink/psychologist/psychiatrist. Make it seem normal, because it is - people go when they’re going through rough patches in their lives or need advice, so feeling bad is a good reason too.

Alternately, suggest that they see their regular doctor and describe all of the symptoms you noticed (weight loss, tiredness, whatever) and any emotional feelings - tell her that the doctor can help figure out if something’s wrong and make a referral to a specialist if need be. You don’t have to be specific about the specialist type, but if he or she’s in a HMO she’d need a referral from that doctor to see someone else anyway.

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at the literature on this, but I remember reading something about that having three major depressive episodes that last a long time is a good indicator for going on meds for life or at least the long term. Then again, diabetics and others have to stay on meds for life as well.

At the moment, I’m going through a bad time… not depressed about anything per se… just generally pissed off at life. Pissed off at work… want to tell everyone exactly what I really think of them, but often just :smiley: instead… grrrrrrrrrrr…

I know its cos I’m long distance from the bf and want to be with him but, due to various reasons, we can’t as yet. Normally I’m fine dealing with it … just a bit tired and down at the moment so its tougher. Knowing that I’ve been through the blues before and came out the other side ok (better maybe as I learnt how to cope with it and that I could cope with it) helps now.

I know this won’t last forever and I know I am loved no matter what… it helps.

I never feel it helps talking face to face with someone but I can and have poured my guts out to a few excellently supportive friends I have met on the net … there’s something about having that bit of distance between us and yet we know each others lives intimately that helps me. I find talking face to face difficult as it somehow compounds the problem to me - makes it more real. That makes it harder to cope with.

Generally I work it though myself… take time out for me, treat myself to things like beauty treatments or some clothes or a hair do or whatever… I try to eat ok and exercise but I do have to force that (who the hell doesnt lol) … I’m not doing too good on that score these past few weeks but I’ll get back to it.

Knowing what causes it helps… sometimes nothing causes it though which is hard - for me its usually some kind of situational depression - now being apart from the man I love more than anybody in the world. Its bloody tough (dont let anyone tell ya long distance is a cop out - hardest bloody thing I’ve ever done).

I think if you’re thinking thoughts that are concerning you, then meds are probably required. However, I do believe that people can help themselves a lot - I have tendancy to mope and wallow and I give in to that sometimes (like right now) … then I have to force myself to snap out of it - tough stuff but its gotta be done.

However, when regular life becomes an impossiblity, when things like brushing your teeth or feeding yourself becomes a trauma, then its time to take it a professional.

Of course, all this is just my opinion… I have found that if I force myself up and out, I do better… I just need to find the will inside to do that.

Hope some or any of that helps.

I agree that we all have good and bad days. I am surprised that you thought it had to last six months. Most of the information on it that I’ve seen says 2 weeks.

For me, hopelessness and helplessness are more symptoms than feeling sad. An evaluation by a trained doctor would almost certainly help, as long as the doctor is good at it. If somebody feels worse after talking to them, changing doctors might help. I agree with talking to her primary care doctor about all the symptoms.

There are a lot of anti-depressants around. I went through a LOT of medicines and different dosages before I found one that helped. Paxil may have helped one person, but not necessarily another person.


it’s interesting to note that in some people, they can appear otherwise “fine” - to all intents and purposes they manage to clean the house, they manage to get dressed, to go to work, and yet they too suffer from depression. Sometimes, people will suicide as a result of this illness and those that are left say: “We had no clue!” No wonder depression is known as the “silent killer.” It appears to affect people in different ways.

If you are trying to be a friend to someone who you think is depressed, be prepared for a long haul: it can be very tough, especially when they go into Professional Hermit mode and push you away - even though that may be the last thing they want to do, they still do it.

Best of luck.

I hadn’t done a lot of research - but the first website I found mentioned 6 months. Sounded like a long time to me, which is why I asked.

Two weeks doesn’t sound all that long to me - I’m thinking back to my college days. I honestly don’t think I was depressed, but there were a few months when I really hated being there and didn’t know what else to do and I felt really helpless. But I just kept dragging myself to class and eventually the semester was over and the gloom passed. For all I know, the person in question is going thru a similar period. I just don’t want to look back some day and know I saw signs and didn’t do anything.

It hasn’t been a long term event as yet, so I’m thinking the best thing now is to be aware and available and maybe educate myself a bit more. I truly appreciate all you’ve shared with me - personal experience is more helpful to me than textbooks. Thanks so much, one and all!

Yet another depressed Dpoer checking in. I have to agree with everything already posted–with me it’s about 2-3 weeks curled up in a ball, crying like a little girl (I’m a 48 year old male). Life gets absolutely hopeless and pointless, and when I talk to anybody at all I just whine. I’ve had several episodes of this, the latest just a few weeks ago, and it looks like I’m on meds for life.

FCM , if your friend is feeling like what you say, they are most likely depressed, and a trip to the MD is necessary. Depression may go away by itself, but IT ALWAYS COMES BACK, like malaria of the brain.