The word depressed is widely used in our culture today. So much so that its meaning is not at all clear. When a friend tells you that shes depressed most of us understand that to mean that she is sad or upset about something going on in her life. What we dont know is just how sad or how upset she is.
Understanding the depth and breadth of the feeling is very important in determining what, if anything, needs to be done to help. We all know the experience of losing someone or something important to us and the sadness and heaviness that accompanies it. That feeling may last for hours, days, weeks, or even longer depending on how important a place that person or object had in our lives. Just like all feelings or temporary emotional experiences, this state passes with time and is replaced with other feelings. More often than not we need to do little more than listen thoughtfully and show our support for our friend in order to help her get through this experience.
Sometimes, the feeling persists beyond hours and days and moves into weeks and months. When this happens and our friends emotional state takes on a more pervasively gloomy and pessimistic tone, they might be best described as having a depressed mood. We all know folks like these. They feel like a black cloud is hanging over them and rarely expect anything good to happen to them and yet they do seem to be cheered up by positive events, at least for awhile. Unfortunately, that respite may be brief because of the weight of the troubles and challenges they see around them. Individuals whose mood has become depressed will likely need more than a good ear and a caring shoulder to cry on in order to help them problem-solve their way through this ongoing gloominess. This is because their thought processes have taken on a pessimistic quality that makes it very difficult to see the possibility that things could get better.
Unfortunately, for some the experience becomes even more complicated. Not only is their mood depressed but they begin to experience physical changes which affect their sleep, appetite, energy, concentration, and emotional control. We call this clinical or major depression.