Dear Dr. Buckingham, I am having a hard time dealing with my wife’s emotional instability over the past three months, especially considering the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. She appears to be depressed because she loss her mother in January of this year and was laid off from her job in April. I believe that she lost her job because she could not focus or perform at work. She tells me that she is okay and is just feeling a little blue. Every time she talks about the blues I wonder if she is depressed. I am not a mental health professional so I do not know the difference. However, I do know that depression is the most common mental health disorder for those who commit suicide. I do not want to miss an opportunity to get my wife some professional help. My Wife is Troubled: What is the Difference Between the Blues and Depression?
Dear Concerned Husband,
You are definitely taking the correct approach in helping your wife. Unfortunately, so many people try to figure out mental health challenges without being properly trained to do so. Mental health is a very difficult and sensitive topic. Your wife could potentially be suffering from grief and depression. Grief is felt whenever we experience some form of loss and depression is when our mood is negatively impacted by our mental distress. Your wife lost her mother and job within a short timeframe. Given this, I would argue that she might be experiencing more than blues.
The blues is best defined as a temporary and non-dysfunctional mood that involves feelings of sadness, loneliness or grief that typically does not interfere with work, sleep or recreation. Depression, on the other hand, is best defined as a lingering and dysfunctional mood that involves feelings of sadness, fatigue, worthlessness, and weight change that affect your mood, thoughts, body, and behavior and also interferes with work, sleep or recreation.
The difference between the blues and depression is the ability to function. Blues are temporary and non-dysfunctional, which means you can still function in a somewhat a normal manner. Depression lingers and negatively impacts one’s mood causing him or her to struggle with daily functioning.
In order for your wife to be diagnosed with depression, five (or more) of the following symptoms must have been present during the same 2-week period and represent a change from previous functioning; at least one of the symptoms is either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad, empty, hopeless) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful).
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities most of the day, nearly every day (as indicated by either subjective account or observation).
- Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day.
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick).
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day (either by subjective account or as observed by others).
- Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.
Please keep in mind that the symptoms listed above must also cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning in order to be considered depression.
This is information for educational purposes only so please do not attempt to diagnosis your wife or anyone else. I highly recommend that you seek professional counseling for your wife. Diagnosing individuals with depression or any other mental illness requires appropriate clinical training. Professionals like myself are trained to identify and treat depression before it causes or contributes to significant life problems or suicidal thinking.
If you are interested in learning more about depression and suicide prevention, please attend my FREE webinar training, entitled To Live or Not to Live: Understanding and Preventing Suicide. The webinar will take place on Thursday, June 14, 2018 at 9:00 pm EST. For more details, please visit www.empathyandresiliencecenter.org or my Facebook page at @DrDwayneBuckingham.
If you have questions for Dr. Dwayne Buckingham regarding relationships (married, single, etc), parenting, or personal growth and development, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The ideas, opinions, and recommendations contained in this post are not intended as a substitute for seeking professional counseling or guidance. Any concerns or questions that you have about relationships or any other source of potential distress should be discussed with a professional, in person. The author is not liable or responsible for any personal or relational distress, loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or recommendations in this post.