The Difference Between Clinical Depression And Just Feeling Depressed

Often clients will ask me “Sometimes I feel a lack of energy or I just want to be alone. Can this be depression?” Clinical Depression is very different from occasional depressed feelings. We will talk about the variety of possible signs and symptoms of both Clinical Depression and general sadness, as well as what you can do if you experience them over time.

Non-Medical Feelings of Depression:

We all go through some days of feeling low, or sad, or wanting solitude, or just wanting to go back to bed for the day. Sometimes several different things do not go well and we can feel “beaten down” by life. But we also have days when we go out with friends, feel more energy, and generally can enjoy the events or people around us. The “low” days are few and scattered throughout the year. This is normal and a part of life. We can pick ourselves up out of our depressed feelings.

Major Depression Symptoms: (formal diagnosis)

Major Depression or Clinical Depression involves feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities or people, inability to concentrate, withdrawal from others, memory problems, etc. We cannot just “will ourselves” to feel better. Our friends and family can have a difficult time understanding our depression if they have never experienced it personally.

A list of symptoms taken directly from the Mayo Clinic website:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

Genetic Causes of Depression

Sometimes a genetic predisposition in the family will cause depression. For example, anxiety, ADD, and in some cases, migraines, and many other ailments can all be caused by genetics. With depression the brain does not always produce enough serotonin which can cause one’s mood to drop. However, depression can occur for many other reasons.

Other Causes of Major Depression:

Loss of a loved one can cause depression, especially if the grieving process has not occurred over time. Loneliness and isolation, especially in the elderly can cause depression. Some studies have shown that some children who are raised in a family of frequent arguing may be predisposed later in life to depression, or health problems. UCLA researchers,Rena Repetti, Shelley Taylor, and Teresa Seeman looked at 47 studies in 2002 regarding the effects of parental arguing in their children’s lives. They found that later in adulthood many of the children whose parents often argued developed more health issues than those whose parents did not argue as much.

What to do if you are feeling low, but it is not a medical depression:

  • Try to identify the cause: Disappointment about something? Loss? Unmet expectations?
  • Reach out to someone you trust and talk about how you feel.
  • Do some things that make you feel better, such as listening to your favorite music, or creating ambience with lighted candles.
  • Get some exercise. This is very important in dealing with a low mood or depression. Even taking the dog for a walk will raise one’s mood. Or go to the gym even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Reach out to friends and try to have fun, even if you don’t feel like it in the moment.

What to do if you have more serious and ongoing symptoms, as listed above:

  • Seek professional help. You may start with your General Physician and he or she may want to send you for an evaluation with a psychiatrist who specializes in medications. The right medication can often give your system the balance it needs, and a jump start to feeling better. Sometimes the General Physician has enough experience to begin you on a typical medication for your symptoms. But not every person responds to medication the same way. Consult with your doctor to make sure you are on the right medication for you.
  • Psychotherapy can be very effective, even on a short-term basis. Remember, we don’t know what we don’t know. Learning new skills or how to heal from a loss can have a very positive effect on our well-being.
  • Do not isolate yourself. Reach out to friends. If you don’t have many friends available then look for group activities, doing an activity that you already enjoy. Search for activities on, check the activity board at your local coffee shop, or check out local churches.
  • Do at least one (little) thing that makes you happy each day. Have a list of things you know that already work for you. This might include walking on the beach if it is close to you. Or perhaps playing with a pet, or borrow someone’s. Listening to music is often soothing or uplifting.


If you find your depression includes thoughts of harm to yourself or someone else, then IMMEDIATELY

  • Call for assistance: National Suicide Prevention Hotline –  tel:1-800-273-8255
  • Or go to your nearest Emergency Room.

About Susan Saint-Welch

Susan Saint-Welch LMFT has counseled couples and individuals for many years on issues such as dating, marriage, family drama, coping with difficult times, improving self-image and living the life you love. She provides psychotherapy for clients in California and Dating, Couples and Life Coaching for clients outside California through secure video conferencing. She has published numerous articles regarding these issues on her website, on and on

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