Emotional pain isn't unique to depression. For example, all of the symptoms listed under this heading in Warning Signs of Depression can appear in times of grief. Individual symptoms or a cluster of them may be triggered by other events as well - job loss, divorce, a profound disappointment. If the symptoms continue too long, they may require treatment. But by themselves, these symptoms don't necessarily indicate the presence of major depression. Let's take a look at them:
- Prolonged sadness
- Unexplained, uncontrollable crying
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Loss of self-esteem
These symptoms, especially taken individually, are not unique to clinical depression. Feeling helpless, for example, may be a reasonable initial reaction to a difficult situation.
In bipolar depression, however, a feeling of helplessness is likely to be:
- Combined with other types of emotional pain
- Combined with other types of depressive symptoms
- Prolonged beyond a reasonable time
- More severe than is reasonable
As I said, any one or more of these symptoms could be a common reaction to a traumatic event. But if they don't get any better after a reasonable amount of time, are increasing in severity or are significantly impacting your functioning, you should seek help. One element that can differentiate bipolar depression from a more expectable emotional reaction, is that in a person suffering from a mood disorder, these symptoms may also occur spontaneously, without any clear triggering stress.
At the same time, any stressful life event - be it sorrowful or even joyous - has the potential to set off a depressive episode in someone with major depression or bipolar disorder. Thus, it is particularly important to monitor someone with a history of depression, mania or hypomania after any kind of major life occurrence, such as divorce or marriage, a death or a birth.