From Blue to Black: Is It Holiday Blues or Clinical Depression?

        Caring Editor in Chief Karl Steinberg, MD, CMD, HMDC, talks about how to tell if you or a loved one just have the blues or something more serious.
        With the holidays approaching, it isn’t unusual for people to feel a bit of the blues. However, it is important to know the difference between feeling blue and being clinically depressed. Everyone feels sad or unhappy sometimes, but these periods of feeling blue are temporary. They often are related to a certain situation, such as a loss or other sad event or disappointment, and may dissipate fairly quickly. However, if the blues drag on or you also feel things such as worthlessness, fatigue, loss of appetite, or hopelessness, you may have clinical depression. Depression is not a normal part of aging.
        How can you tell if you have depression or are just feeling sad? When you’re feeling blue, it usually goes away in a few days or weeks. If your feelings interfere with work or life, it’s temporary; that is, you might miss a meal or turn down an invitation to play cards. Although you are sad, you understand that you’ll likely feel better soon and you still have basic self-esteem and hope for the future.
        Sometimes with depression, a loss of interest in activities — particularly those you once loved — can be the primary symptom. With depression, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, excessive or inappropriate guilt, and even suicidal thoughts are common. You may cry a lot, sometimes for no specific reason. Depression often leads to sleep problems, fatigue, difficulty thinking or concentrating, irritability, or significant weight loss or gain. If you have five or more of these symptoms for most of the day, almost every day for 2 weeks or more, you should seek help.
        Depression can be treated. Your practitioner may prescribe medications such as antidepressants, or recommend referral to a psychiatrist to consider other treatments. Having depression does not mean you are weak. This is a real illness like arthritis or asthma, and it’s not your fault that you have it. You need help, and this is nothing to be embarrassed about.
        If you have the blues during the holidays, there are things you can do to feel better. Invite family and friends to visit, and participate in holiday activities. Enjoy favorite holiday music or movies. Talk to your practitioner or other team member about things that would cheer you up. For example, if you miss your dog, they might be able to arrange for your family to bring it for a visit. If you miss singing in the choir, they might be able to bring in some carolers or musical groups. Don’t be afraid to ask for help making the holidays more fun.

        Questions to Ask Your Practitioner

        • How do I know if a loved one has clinical depression?
        • What lifestyle activities may contribute to depression?
        • What medications can treat depression? What side effects might they have?
        • Are medications AND counseling necessary?

        What You Can Do

        • Tell your physician or other practitioner right away if you or a loved one has any signs of depression.
        • Seek out activities and people that bring you joy and strength. Ask caregivers if you need help.
        • Avoid alcohol and caffeine, especially if you are having trouble sleeping. Get sunlight and exercise.

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