Man sitting on bench, deep in thought

“Being diagnosed with depression is like being diagnosed with any other medical problem (eg. diabetes or high blood pressure). Although having depression impacts your life, your diagnosis does not define who you are.”

If you’re struggling with symptoms of depression, consulting a doctor to see what’s going on is a crucial first step. Your doctor will likely conduct a formal assessment of your symptoms to give them a better sense of what you’re experiencing. Depending on the results of their assessment, they may inform you that you are experiencing depression. This diagnosis can play an important role in your recovery.

An official diagnosis is often needed to access further services and receive treatment (particularly within public health systems or when treatment is covered by third-party payers). However, it can also lead to fear and confusion if you’re not aware that depression is treatable.

“I remember when I first got diagnosed, I thought my life was over – and that I was doomed to be depressed forever. In time, I realized that my diagnosis wasn’t so much about me, but more about the symptoms I was feeling at the time. Eventually, I found strength in knowing I was fighting depression, as it helped guide me toward resources that had helped others.”

– Joshua Beharry, Project Manager, 34

Depression is a very common illness worldwide; more than 19 million people report living with depression in the US and Canada alone.(1,2) While some people experience only a single bout (or episode) of depression, others may have multiple depressive episodes over the course of their lives.

Being diagnosed with ‘major depressive disorder’ (the current medical term) doesn’t mean you’ll be depressed for your entire life – it simply means you are experiencing the symptoms of depression right now. And even for those who might be prone to recurring episodes of depression, it is very much possible to live well with depression – this is important to understand.

See the common symptoms of depression and try our Self Check, a depression screening tool, to see how much they may be affecting you.

AFTER BEING DIAGNOSED WITH DEPRESSION:

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to respond to a depression diagnosis, and reactions vary for different people. Some are taken aback by the diagnosis and feel fear, shock, shame, anger, and/or guilt.(3) It can be hard learning you have an illness, especially if you don’t have a solid understanding of it or know what your road to recovery might look like.

For many others, the diagnosis actually brings a sense of relief. Finally being able to put a name to what they’ve been feeling offers a sense of hope and a better understanding of how to best move forward.

A diagnosis of depression shouldn’t be seen as a limitation or a life sentence, but rather a key that can help unlock the shackles depression has put on your life.

Here are some important tips to help you navigate through your recovery:

Know that depression is treatable:

  • There are many well studied and effective ways to treat depression, including strategies to work on your overall health, talk therapy, and for some, medication (depending on the severity of depression).
  • Remember that everyone’s path to recovery is their own and may involve a different combination of treatments or take different amounts of time. Your recovery shouldn’t be compared to others.

Avoid labelling yourself as a ‘depressed person’:

  • Sometimes, people get attached to the label of their diagnosis (for example, talking about oneself as a “depressed person”). But applying such labels to yourself can hinder your recovery and make you feel more down on yourself, worsening your overall mental health.(4,5)

Reframe your diagnosis:

  • Remember that a diagnosis is not a judgement of your character or a description of your personality, it is a name for your symptoms. It does not define you, nor your worth as a person.
  • Try reframing your thoughts about your diagnosis to a more helpful and accurate description of yourself as “a person who is dealing with depression right now.”

Talk to someone about it:

  • Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family is one of the best ways to ensure an effective recovery.(6) While you may feel like withdrawing from your friends and family when depressed, it’s important to fight this urge and maintain your social connections – they are a powerful way to improve your mental health.(7)

Different Terms Related to Depression:

Below are some common terms related to depression and what each really means.

Major depressive disorder:

  • Also known as ‘classic’, ‘clinical’, or ‘major’ depression, major depressive disorder is the current medical term that reflects a collection of symptoms associated with depression. There are several different symptoms considered for a diagnosis, and each person who receives a diagnosis will have their own unique ‘symptom profile’.

When we say ‘depression’ on our site, it is shorthand for this more official term.

Persistent depression (chronic depression or dysthymia):

  • Persistent depression is classified as a depression that lasts 2 years or longer, and describes someone who has ongoing or recurrent issues with depression. In most cases, symptoms are not as intense as with major depressive disorder. Yet, people with persistent depression can also experience episodes of major depressive disorder.

Seasonal depression (seasonal affective disorder or SAD):

  • Seasonal depression occurs mostly during the winter months, usually as a result of shorter days and less sunlight. While current research can’t explain the exact processes responsible for seasonal depression, it is most frequent among those who live in regions furthest from the equator (8), where there are fewer hours of daylight.

‘Situational depression’:

  • This isn’t actually a medical term, but instead informally refers to difficulty adjusting to a significant life event (like the passing of a loved one or the ending of a once healthy relationship), which can involve experiencing some symptoms associated with depression (e.g., sadness and lack of energy).

By understanding the purpose of your diagnosis, remaining hopeful, and remembering that your illness does not define you, you can begin your journey toward recovery.

For more information and a guide to the recovery process see our Take Action page.


References:

  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Major Depression. NIMH. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression
  2. Canadian Mental Health Association. (2021, July 19). Fast facts about mental health and mental illness. CMHA. https://cmha.ca/brochure/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/#_edn1
  3. Canadian Mental Health Association. (2021). When you’re diagnosed with a mental illness. Here to Help. https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/when-youre-diagnosed-with-a-mental-illness
  4. Moses, T. (2009). Self-labelling and its effects among adolescents diagnosed with mental disorders. Social Science and Medicine, 68(3), 570-578. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19084313/
  5. Launder, A. (n.d.). What’s the impact of having a mental health diagnosis? The Awareness Centre. https://theawarenesscentre.com/mental-health-diagnosis/
  6. Jensen, M., Smith, A., Bombardier, C., Yorkston, K., Miró, J., & Molton, I. (2014). Social support, depression, and physical disability: Age and diagnostic group effects. Disability and Health Journal, 7(2), 164-172. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2013.11.001
  7. Saeri, A., Cruwys, T., Barlow FK, Stronge, S., & Sibley, C. (2018). Social connectedness improves public mental health: Investigating bidirectional relationships in the New Zealand attitudes and values survey. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 52(4), 365-374. 10.1177/0004867417723990
  8. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Seasonal affective disorder. NIMH. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder
Approved by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Medically reviewed by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk.
Check in with your health: