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When Sadness Becomes Depression

by Samantha Lambert

May 2021

After an unusual winter filled with hardships for many, the prospect of a new summer season might bring hope for a better time, new possibilities, or even a fresh start. Or perhaps not. The exact opposite might be true during this seasonal transition: This past year's stresses may have contributed to a deep-rooted sadness that interferes with any feelings of hope or happiness. It's important to recognize when sadness crosses the line from a temporary and normal response to stress to a health concern.

If, over an interval of two weeks or more, a depressed mood or lack of interest in things previously enjoyed is noted, medical providers might consider a diagnosis of depression. Symptoms of depression include more than just sadness and feelings of hopelessness. Other symptoms can include sleeping or eating too much or too little, a lack of concentration, or irritability. Sometimes symptoms become so severe they transform into thoughts of physical harm or even death. Those feelings and thoughts can be very difficult to talk about. They are also red flags that depression is becoming so severe that treatment with the guidance of a medical provider, maybe even with medication, is necessary.

Understanding how medication can help mood starts with understanding chemicals in the brain that influence mood. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, become imbalanced in people that have depression. Medication is used to restore this balance in a similar way that diabetics take insulin to restore the body's sugar balance. But medication alone is often not enough to cure depression. Regularly talking to a professional that specializes in supporting people with deep sadness can be essential as well.

Medical providers can help sort out concerns about mood. They use several different tools to better understand mood symptoms and what treatment might be needed. One tool may be a questionnaire asking if mood ever impacts personal relationships or affects job performance. If that answer is yes, a provider might offer medication or other options, review risks and benefits of both, and offer counseling resources. People seeking help may accept the provider's suggestions, but declining is always an option as well.

Depression is not a sign of weakness. It is a medical condition caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Deep sadness and feelings of hopelessness can be very scary to experience. Many people hide these feelings from friends, families, and even themselves. The decision to see a medical provider about these feelings and other mood problems can be scary, too, but seeking treatment can be life changing, even lifesaving.

If feelings of sadness and hopelessness become overwhelming, call (800) 273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (now called 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline), for free assistance provided by a trained professional.

This article also appeared in the June 21, 2021 issue of the Devils Lake Journal.

About the Author

Samantha LambertSamantha Lambert is a third-year medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. She was selected as the Devils Lake participant for the school's ROME program, or Rural Opportunities in Medical Education. The program includes teaching student doctors the importance of rural newspapers. As a future rural healthcare leader, Lambert has written this column to provide health information for her ROME community. The information is not for diagnosis or treatment and should not be used in place of previous medical advice provided by a licensed practitioner.