What WebMD Doesn’t Tell You About Clinical Depression



Clinical depression affects an estimated 14.8 million American adults a year, and over 80% suffering its symptoms are not receiving treatment.



What WebMD says, and what I’d add* (in itallics):

“Most people feel sad or low at some point in their lives. But clinical depression is marked by a depressed mood most of the day, particularly in the morning, and a loss of interest in normal activities and relationships. This “depressed mood” is greater in magnitude and complexity than what many people mean  today when they say they had a depressing day.  You also do not need to have suffered any devastating setback in order to have depression. Symptoms are present every day for at least 2 weeks.  It could last a few months, a whole year, and even multiple years. In fact, you could have been depressed for as long as you remember without even knowing it. In addition, according to the DSM-IV — a manual used to diagnose mental health conditions (though you should also talk to people who have been diagnosed to find out how it is really experienced) — you may have other symptoms with major depression. Those symptoms might include:

  • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day. Just because you can give convincing and plausible counterarguments to your loved ones’ reassurances that you are not worthless does NOT mean you are not depressed.
  • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness. And diminished mental and intellectual capabilities. You think you are or have become stupid. 
  • Insomnia or hyperinsomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day. Most of the time, it is not from fatigue but from a desire to escape reality or to avoid being reminded that other people are better than you.
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day (called anhedonia, this symptom can be indicated by reports from significant others). This includes not just hobbies but basic self-maintenance like eating well and dressing in a presentable manner.
  • Restlessness or feeling slowed down.
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide. Or fantasizing about other scenarios that would spare you of self-awareness, such as losing your sanity completely or being in a vegetative state.
  • Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month).”

(*I’m in no way accusing of the wonderful people behind WebMD of misrepresenting depression. I’m trying to show that symptoms of mental illness aren’t going to be as identifiable as symptoms of physical illness, and that they’re much more complex than cookie cutter bullet points may lead us to believe.)

Earlier today, I talked to an old friend, with whom I recently got reconnected, who struggled with depression for 2 years without even knowing she had a diagnosable, treatable condition. I can’t begin to imagine how confusing and terrifying that must  have been for her. When I was told that my recurring feelings of stupidity and loss of social skills were the effects of an illness, it was a godsend. Later, I did somehow got to a point where I convinced myself that I wasn’t depressed, and had always been this “pathetic” — but at least some part of me was able to cling on to the hope, no matter how tiny, that I might not be as pathetic and worthless as I believed myself to be.

I can understand why so many sufferers of depression wouldn’t suspect having anything remotely close to a mental illness. The first time I suffered a bout of depression, it was minor depression (this condition is unfortunately named — the suffering of people with minor depression isn’t minor). Having never personally known anyone who’d been depressed, the medical word “depression” wasn’t quite in my vocabulary, and it naturally didn’t cross my mind that this pervasive sense of sadness and hopelessness was a symptom of a treatable mental condition. At some point, a mentor did mention to me that what I was describing sounded a lot like mild depression. Unfortunately, due to my misconception that depression had to be triggered by a devastating life event, I acknowledged his concern but quietly concluded that I couldn’t possibly be depressed. It was only after I’d recovered that I did more research and realized I might actually have had a form of depression. 

If you are presently supporting a depressed loved one, I cannot stress enough how important it is to sincerely seek to understand how they are experiencing and perceiving themselves and the world around them. Lackadaisical attempts at understanding, such as simply reading Wikipedia articles, lead to false conclusions that the depressive mood goes away with exercise, spending time with people, or thinking positive. Unhelpful attempts to help only cause depressed individual feeling even more alone.

If you are presently battling depression, know that talking about how you feel is not a sign of weakness, nor a selfish cry for attention. You are merely talking about the symptoms of an illness that, in spite of having been medically recognized for several hundred years, remains shrouded with misconceptions. The people who love you want to understand and will stand by you.

If you have recovered from depression, know that  telling your story is immensely encouraging to present sufferers. It is also an empowering means to affirm to yourself that you have overcome this frustratingly debilitating illness, and that it does not and has never defined you.

11 thoughts on “What WebMD Doesn’t Tell You About Clinical Depression

  1. This is extremely valuable and it was very good how you began with the web md definition and added to it. This is a great thing for someone with depression to show to a loved one to help them understand. It is validating for those of us suffering from depression. It is also helpful to those of us who suffer from mental illness and are also trying to help a friend who is in even more severe suffering more of the time.
    I try to remember that my friend (boyfriend) is suffering more often and more extreme than I am. More importantly that he is suffering differently because each person is unique.
    While we have many similarities to each other , my coping skills are usually stronger.
    Sometimes , however It begins to weigh me down if he talks of self harm and seems to lose connection with reality. I can maintain my level of function to a point and not get dragged down. But sometimes it is hard.
    I have heard some talks by Ajahn Brahm that have helped me to not get sucked into a deeper depression myself from helping my friend.
    I will put my thoughts together and write a blog on those ideas, in case they may be helpful to anyone.
    Sometimes I just get overcome by my own anxiety and depression (not his fault) and it is hard for me to reach out to him for help. Sometimes he is very compassionate and other times I feel neglected.
    The blogs i have chosen to follow on wordpress were chosen by me to create a validation circle which is helpful sometimes.
    God Bless


  2. Amazing piece. I suffer from chronic pain and have Major Depressive Disorder since I was a kid.
    Your openness and honestly was very welcomed. And you’re absolutely right about how if you look up depression, so much stuff on the internet makes it seem like it such an easy illness to treat. I read these things and think, “Well, if it’s so treatable, why haven’t the doctors been able to treat my depression.”
    Again, great piece.


  3. Hello there! This blog post couldn’t be written much better!
    Looking at this article reminds me of my previous
    roommate! He always kept preaching about this. I most certainly
    will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he
    will have a very good read. Thank you for sharing!


  4. And then there’s the kind NO one mentions and that’s the ones that are severely depressed and hide it completely from others the way my daughter did. I didn’t even know this was possible until she took her own life. They don’t give people enough information out there. Love the additions you made though.


  5. Felt that this post was very apt at bringing out the severity of depression and how we often trivialize it as a society. Thanks for giving me the insight into how depression really affects an individual. It is often too easy to slap a label/diagnosis on a patient (aka DSM-V which has recently been released), but often forget that this condition has a real impact on people and their families.

    Would you mind if I share this post with some other medics? I think it’ll be really insightful (:


    1. Of course! Feel free to share it with as many people as you’d like. I appreciate your eagerness to understand/help others understand better too (see, you’ll make a fine doctor!). 🙂 You’re right, it’s important to look beyond the confines of the label to see how a certain form of mental illness is manifesting in an individual’s head and life. There are many common characteristics, but since it’s something that affects one’s thoughts, which can be incredibly active and malleable, it ends up being more complicated than merely “feeling sad.”


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