What is Depression? Is It the Same as Being Sad?

What is depression, anyway? Is it the same as feeling sad? No. Depression is not just feeling down for a day or two. The diagnosis of depression is based on having certain symptoms.

Two key symptoms are depressed mood, which is feeling sad or blue, and difficulty experiencing pleasure or joy, which is sometimes called anhedonia.

Other symptoms of depression are problems sleeping, changes in appetite (more or less), feelings of worthlessness or guilt, problems concentrating, fatigue or low energy, mental/physical agitation or chronic worry or slowing, and having thoughts about suicide.

To have major depression, you need to have at least five of these symptoms, including one of the first two, depressed mood and anhedonia. And the symptoms have to last at least two weeks, and cause you some discomfort and impairment in your functioning.

The exception is mourning or bereavement, which can cause the same symptoms, but doesn’t count as depression. So if your mother has died and you have these symptoms, don’t worry.

Depression Screening Checklist

Instructions: Check any symptoms that you have been troubled by and that has lasted for the past two weeks.

Category A

___ I have felt sad or blue or depressed

___ I have had a hard time feeling joy or pleasure, even while doing activities that typically bring me joy or pleasure. I feel “flat”.

Category B

___I have had a hard time concentrating.

___I have felt tired or low energy.

___I have had difficulty sleeping (sleeping too little or too much)

___I have had changes in my appetite (eating too little, or too much).

___I have felt mental/physical agitation or slowing down.

___ I have felt worthless or guilty or lowered self-esteem.

___I have had thoughts about death or suicide or hurting myself.


Count the number of checks in Category A. Write that here:____

Count the number of checks in Category B. Write that here: ____.

Add up the number of checks in Category A and Category B, and write that here: _____.

If A is 1 or 2, and the sum of A and B is 5 or more, you have major depression, and should seek help from your doctor or from a psychologist. If A is 1 or 2, and the sum of A and B is 3 or 4, you may have mild depression, and should probably seek help as well.

IMPORTANT: If you are having any thoughts about hurting yourself or killing yourself, you should seek help immediately, calling your local suicide prevention line (listed in the front of your phonebook), or calling 911, or seeing your doctor or a psychologist right away.

Copyright 2006 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions


Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.