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Question: For the past four weeks, I've been feeling a lot different than I used to. I have trouble falling asleep at night and trouble staying asleep. I'm also skipping meals. I just don't feel that hungry. I've stopped running. I feel like I have no energy for that. I'm not talking to my friends as much because I feel I'm dragging them all down. I have a hard time focusing on schoolwork, and the smallest things make me cry. I can't control my sadness and was hoping it would pass. My parents say that everyone feels stressed like that from time to time, but I think I need some help. Do I need to see a doctor?
Answer: Thank you for your question. The short answer to your question is yes, you need to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Although everyone can feel sad or "down" from time to time, what you are describing are the symptoms of clinical depression and are not likely to go away on their own.
People who are depressed typically experience some of the following nine symptoms:
- Sadness or irritability if you are a young person
- A loss of pleasure or interest in activities that used to be enjoyable or interesting
- Sleep difficulties (e.g., sleeping too little or sleeping a lot more than usual)
- A disturbance in appetite, including a loss of appetite or a significant increase in appetite
- Feeling tired or having no energy
- Feeling worthless or criticizing yourself harshly
- Difficulties concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
- Feeling agitated or sluggish
- Having thoughts of suicide, thinking that life is not worth living or wanting to end your life
To be diagnosed with depression you need to have at least five of the symptoms listed above, and one of those symptoms most be a loss of interest or pleasure as well as sad or irritable moods. Most importantly, your symptoms need to have lasted for four weeks. From what you wrote, it looks like you have more than five symptoms, including feeling sad and loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy (e.g., running, friends). Your symptoms have also been persistent for four weeks.
You mention that your parents think your sad mood will go away. Unfortunately, up to two thirds of parents have difficulty recognizing signs of depression in their children. That happens because many symptoms of depression, such as, loss of pleasure in activities, difficulties concentrating, or feelings of worthlessness are internal and not easily noticed by other people, even those close to you. Moreover, many people do not fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation, because they fail to understand that those who are depressed can still have good moments from time to time. Your parents may also not know what to say or how to help.
Make sure you talk to your parents again as soon as possible. Let them know that you are not feeling well, that it has been going on for a while, and it is getting in the way of you enjoying life and doing well in school. Mention that you would like to see your doctor and find out why you are feeling so sad. You could even take a screening test (click here) and let your parents know how it went.
It's important to remember that clinical depression is one of the most disabling illnesses in the world, affecting over 300 million people every year. But depression is also a treatable condition. With treatment, you can start feeling better, but maybe not back to your usual self, in just a few weeks.
Hopes this helps. Let us know how it goes.