Is it Depression - Or Just a Hard Life?
UnhappyBunny posted this question in the Q&A section of HealthCentral's BipolarConnect.com, and it's a good one that I'll try to answer.
Going through hard times can cause depression in someone who was never depressed before. Losing your job, the death of a loved one, a divorce; a difficult financial situation, a move to a new city where you know no one, or any event that is overwhelming may bring on depression. Also, a stressful situation that never gets any better can be depressing, like working month after month, year after year at a job you hate.
In circumstances like these you may develop situational depression - that is, depression specifically related to what's going on in your life. That doesn't mean it's any less difficult to experience than clinical depression. A doctor may diagnose you with a major depressive episode and prescribe treatment such as a medication and/or talk therapy. For this type of depression, working through the issues with a therapist and identifying ways to change your behavior can make a big difference. Sometimes medication alone is the answer, and sometimes medication can make therapy more productive. And sometimes it will go away on its own as things improve in your life.
In major depression, or a depressive episode of bipolar disorder, the symptoms may or may not be related to life circumstances. Something stressful may trigger the episode, but the depression may be more profound than the situation merits, and you may not pull out of it even the the situation improves. Or the depression may come on all by itself for no apparent reason.
The other key to major or bipolar depression is that it recurs. It's not a one-time event - it happens again and again. While depressed, your symptoms generally don't have anything to do with your day-to-day life. You might feel intense guilt about something minor, or find yourself crying for no reason except general profound sadness. You may be so fatigued that you can't even get out of bed, be unable to concentrate, even move or speak more slowly than usual.
In either case - whether it's situation depression or major/bipolar depression - it is not "you who are making yourself depressed." There are reasons - either the circumstances of your life, a stressful event, or the biochemistry of your brain - causing the symptoms.
If your symptoms are disrupting your daily life, you need to seek medical help. If you think making changes to things in your life will help, by all means do that first. They may indeed work. If not - or if you get better but keep experiencing periods of depression, again, seek medical help.