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May 11th, 2009
01:57 PM ET

Distinguishing between sadness and depression

By Caitlin Hagan
CNN Medical Associate Producer

One of my good friends recently went through an unexpected breakup. I'll spare you the details but suffice it to say it was not a pretty situation. But my friend is a strong person. A little time being sad and a few girls' nights were all she thought she needed to bounce back and feel happy again. But months went by and things didn't get any easier. I remember talking to her one night over dinner, when her sadness and anger gave way to frustration. She couldn't wait to stop being sad, she said. When would she be happy again?

What is the difference between sadness and depression? I posed that question to Dr. Paula Bloom, a licensed clinical psychologist. Bloom says it's all about your ability to function. Are your emotions interfering with your daily life? "It's OK to be sad or angry and have some of those feelings, but when you're affected physically, when you have changes in your appetite or your weight, or difficulty sleeping or focusing...or you experience memory problems, that's when it becomes something more serious."

A person with depression may isolate from the world around him or her. Dr. Charles Raison, a psychiatrist and clinical director of the Mind-Body Program at Emory University, described how unproductive emotions, meaning negative emotions, can make a person a magnet for more negativity. As a person with depression withdraws, he or she begins to make bad choices, stop exercising, or indulge in unhealthy vices such as drinking, smoking, or eating poorly. She may avoid social situations, argue with family or co-workers, and fail to stand up for herself when she normally would.

In this tough economic climate, difficult events such as losing a loved one or ending a relationship may be compounded by stress, anxiety or anger triggered by financial difficulties. Job loss can also mean health insurance loss, and a person confronted with unemployment and depression may feel that therapy or antidepressants are not affordable options. But there are steps you can take to help your mood that don’t cost a thing. A change in lifestyle is one of the most effective ways a person can battle depression By eating healthy, exercising, socializing, and trying to get regular sleep, a person can become less isolated and better equipped to manage his or her emotions. Most cities have community mental health centers that offer services at a discounted rate. And for anyone really needing to speak with a therapist, Bloom encourages people to contact a doctor and try to negotiate lower fees. Many mental health professionals are willing to work with patients at a reduced rate.

Have you ever been depressed? What did you do about it?

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