What to Do When You Feel Sad or Upset and Don't Know Why

You Might Be Depressed and Not Know It

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Is it really possible to be depressed and not know it? After all, depression is a serious clinical diagnosis. In reality, it can be difficult to recognize signs of depression over common experiences like sadness or grief. Depression can appear suddenly or gradually. It can be related to a situation (as in adjustment disorders) or there may be no "reason" at all. You may be aware that you feel bad or not like your usual self, but you may not be aware that what you are feeling is clinically significant depression.

Reasons You May Not Know That You Are Depressed

There are several possible explanations for being depressed and not knowing it. Depression might not be on your radar, either due to denial or stigma, or you may dismiss your symptoms because you've been experiencing them for so long. You may even be mistaking the symptoms of depression for something else. Here are some reasons why you may not realize that you are depressed.

  • You've been depressed for so long that it simply feels normal to you. This may be especially true for those who have been depressed since early childhood.
  • You may not be feeling particularly sad so you think it can't possibly be depression. In reality, depression can take more forms than just a feeling of profound sadness. You may feel tired, low in energy, or lack in any real sense of joy without necessarily feeling sadness or being weepy.
  • Depression can develop gradually over an extended period of time. When the changes in mood are subtle and come on slowly, you may not recognize that things aren't the same as they used to be.
  • Depression can make you feel down about yourself. If you are feeling like you are somehow bad or defective, it's easy to dismiss what you are feeling as somehow being an innate part of yourself that can't be fixed. You may feel that rather than suffering from a treatable illness, you are irreparably broken and unworthy of feeling better.
  • Cultural differences can also make it more difficult to recognize and acknowledge depression. If those around you treat depression as something that must be borne without complaint then you may feel as if asking for help is a sign of weakness.
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Some Common Causes of Depression

Recognizing Depression

So how do you know if you are depressed? If you've been experiencing several of the following symptoms for at least two weeks then it is possible that you could be experiencing depression:

  • Feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • Anger and irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed
  • Sleep problems such as insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Changes in appetite or weight (can be either a lack of appetite accompanied by weight loss or increased appetite with weight gain)
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Slowed thought, speech, or physical movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or excessive guilt
  • Problems with thinking, memory, concentration, and decision making
  • Thoughts of death and suicide
  • Mysterious aches and pains with no discernible cause

How to Get Help

If you suspect that you may have depression—or things simply don't feel quite right—it is wise to speak with your doctor about what you are feeling. Your doctor can screen you for possible causes for your symptoms and get you the proper medical care that you need.

Depression Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide to help you ask the right questions at your next doctor's appointment.

Mind Doc Guide

As part of your doctor's visit, you may have certain blood tests done to rule out other causes of your depression symptoms. Certain conditions such as hypothyroidism can create symptoms that mimic depression.

Treating Depression

Once other conditions have been ruled out and a depression diagnosis has been confirmed, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant medication. They may also refer you to a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, or another qualified mental health professional who specializes in treating mental health conditions .

Individual therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can provide a safe and supportive environment for you to explore what's behind your depression and how to work through your sadness. Since it's normal to feel alone, isolated, or different when you're depressed, you might also consider group therapy, which can help you see that others are going through the same thing and help you feel less alone.

Whichever direction you take, remember that there is no stigma in getting help for depression. It is a serious and treatable condition—and one you don't have to manage alone.

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Article Sources

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