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Advice by Sophie Pellegrini // Illustration by Azul Portillo

What IS depression and how do you know if you “have it”?

Illustration by Azul Portillo

My name is Chi and I am 17 years old and I wanted to use the advice forum..
We hear a lot about depression these days.. but I want to know, what is it? How do you know if you actually HAVE depression? I sometimes think I do, but also don’t want to 1) admit it or 2) be dramatic. I never feel suicidal, but often feel like I am living through a fog…. I feel lonely sometimes and often feel a bit blank… I don’t always feel this way but should I be seeking help? I am about to finish high school and I know this is a big change and I don’t want to suddenly be left in the lurch… What if it gets worse? I feel fine now and am coping fine with the feeling I have but without school and constant friend interaction, I just don’t know how I will feel. 

Hi Chi,

Thanks for submitting to the advice forum! What a wonderful question.

Depression is something that is hard to define in concrete and limited terms. One thing to understand is the difference between situational depression and “major”/ “clinical”/ “chronic” depression. Situational depression is a short-lived period of deep sadness that may be brought about by something like the loss of a pet or a fight with a best friend. Sometimes there isn’t even an event that triggers it—we can go through periods of depression for no apparent reason at all! Everyone experiences situational depression, and it does pass.

On the other hand, there’s clinical depression. At least in the United States, to actually receive a diagnosis of “clinical depression,” you would have to be evaluated by a psychiatrist, who would determine if you have clinical depression based on the standards delineated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM).

The symptoms of situational and clinical depression are rather interchangeable, but clinical depression is characterized by having many symptoms at once, continuously over a long period of time. It also often involves chemical imbalances in the brain.

Different symptoms could include but are not limited to:

·      A depressed mood

·      Significantly reduced interest/pleasure in activities

·      Fatigue

·      Change in appetite

·      Insomnia/changed sleeping patterns

·      Trouble thinking and concentrating

·      Feelings of worthlessness

·      Suicide.

(Depression does not imply being suicidal. And for your depression to be important, you do not have to be suicidal.)

All that being said, to be honest, whether or not you “actually have depression” isn’t really that important. If you FEEL depressed, if you FEEL unhappy and like things could be better, THAT’S what matters. You don’t need an official diagnosis or to fit some definition to be worthy of help and support. My advice would be, first off, to not feel the need to label what you are feeling as depression or not depression.

Give some thought to what it is you’re really feeling and how it’s affecting you. How much is are these feelings affecting your daily life? If it is seriously interfering with you ability to function, you should absolutely seek treatment or help of some kind. This could be anything from talk therapy to medication! Even if your feelings aren’t dominating your life but are still giving you trouble, seeking help is always an option, and not one to be ashamed of. There is no minimum requirement for how much sadness/hardship one must have or face to desire or deserve help. We’re all human, and though we may hate to admit it sometimes, we all need help sometimes. That is the very essence of being a human.

In terms of graduating, that’s definitely a scary time for pretty much everyone. However, it could be an amazing change! I know it was for me. If you are attending college/university, chances are there will be programs in place to help you get oriented, and there should be mental health services offered that you can use if you so choose. Plus, we’re lucky that today’s technology makes it pretty easy to stay in touch with friends who are in other places! Graduating doesn’t mean you will lose those people from your life. However, because it is a big change, it’s worth paying extra special attention to your emotions and the feelings you described. If you find that things are getting worse or simply aren’t getting better, it’s probably time to get some help.

As you can probably tell, I could really talk about this a lot. To keep from rambling on too much longer, I am going to stop and instead post a larger piece on depression. Stay tuned on Tigress.



Azul Portillo

Azul Portillo can be found on TumblrFlickr, & Instagram.

Sophie Pellegrini

Sophie Pellegrini is the Co-Founder of Ramona and previous Artistic & Creative Director. She is a photographer and therapist based in St. Louis, Missouri. Follow Sophie on her website and on Instagram.

One Comment

  • Chi says:

    Thank you for responding so quickly Sophie! This has really helped. And made me feel calm about all the changes and also like I can talk to someone even if I’m not 100% sure it’s depression…
    Thanks again Tigress. 🙂

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