• Thu, Jan 12 2012

Depression, SAD Or Just A Funk: The Differences And How To Cope

The holidays are over, and that means you’re either jumping for joy because you’re finally rid of the stress, extended family and expectations of the season, or you’re possibly sinking into a case of the post-festivity blues. While feeling a bit of a let-down after a major event is normal, if your mood has turned into a general “funk” or feelings of depression that you just can’t shake, you’re not alone.

From Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) to depression, the winter blues are more common than you think. To find out the differences and how to deal with them without just trying to will yourself to “get happy”, we consulted with Dr. Deborah Serani, an author and psychologist specializing in depression. Take a look at our conversation:

Even though the holidays are over along with most of its related stress, how common is depression right now?

Most people are getting back to the monotony of daily life after the high octane holidays, so feeling blue or holiday let-down are common experiences. The most common form of depression that spikes from November through spring is the subtype that has a seasonal onset, commonly called Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Many people I know talk about being in a “funk”. Is that a state of depression too?

To be human is to experience an array of different emotions. We can feel upbeat and hopeful, cool and unconcerned, frustrated or in a funk in a given day, even in a given moment. It’s important to remember that how long a funk lasts and its intensity will help determine if you’re dealing with a true clinical condition. If your funk lasts several weeks, it’s a good idea to contact a professional and get things checked out medically and psychologically. Remember, there are medical conditions that can look like depression (hypothyroidism, anemia).

And what exactly is SAD? And how common is that?

It’s important to clarify what SAD really is. It’s a Major Depressive Disorder with a seasonal onset. SAD affects millions worldwide, primarily those living in higher latitudes from the equator and generally affects women more than men. Research reports approximately 3% of children experience SAD, with girls having a higher rate of the disorder than boys. Interestingly, SAD has existed for more than 150 years, but was only recognized as a disorder in the early 1980s. Remember, SAD is a type of Major Depression. The difference though, is that symptoms resolve each spring and tend to occur again in late fall.

So how can we tell the difference between being in a funk, SAD and being depressed?

Again words like “chronicity” (the time or duration of your symptoms) and “pervasiveness” (if your symptoms cut across your daily life from morning to evening, at work, at home, etc.) and “intensity” (mild, moderate, severe) will help determine if you are living with a clinical disorder or just moving through a blue phase. In this day of apps, tech devices and portable phones, you can track your daily moods to get a sense of what you’re experiencing each day.

Is it possible that some people walk around in any one of these states and don’t even know it?

Simply said, yes. The only world we know is the one we live in. That’s why knowledge is power. I’ve worked with many individuals who didn’t realize they were living with a mood disorder. If you read about depression and measure it against your own experiences, you may discover that you have a real medical condition. And with that awareness comes the hope that a healthier, more uplifting life awaits you.

There are certainly days when all of us just want to stay in our pajamas and watch TV all day. How long before we know that’s a problem?

A couple of days is not a big deal. More than that should raise some eyebrows. Moving onto a week is likely to signal some alarms. And longer than 10 days to two weeks tips the scale that something more serious is going on. Remember, being able to shake off a sad, blue or depressed state is not a testimony of one’s merit or strength. It doesn’t signify that you’re weak or lazy or unable to “buck up” and be strong if you can’t “feel better”. Mood disorders are a real medical condition. Emerging out of a depression is like saying you can change your blue eyes to brown by just willing so.

Will any of these cases of the “blahs” tend to resolve themselves or do we always have to seek some sort of treatment?

I never think feelings just evaporate into thin air. We help them move on by feeling them and using problem solving techniques. If we don’t feel them and shove them aside, they find a way to come back, which forces the feeling-them-and-problem-solving issue back on the table! Give yourself some time to work through the bumps in life’s road,  but should you find yourself stuck on the shoulder, or unable to get back on the highway at all, that’s when you should consider reaching out for professional help.

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