Is It The Blues Or Depression?

Katie Young
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Wednesday - July 18, 2007

Thomas Cummings
Thomas Cummings

“I’m feeling blue today,” Jenna explained to her husband, Sam.

“Why?” Sam asked.

“I don’t know,” Jenna said. “I just do. I just feel down.”

Jenna couldn’t explain why every now and then she woke up in the morning and felt a little depressed - why, on those days nothing seemed to go right at work, why no outfit seemed to flatter her and why every word her husband uttered made her grouchy and upset.

“I don’t know what your problem is,” Sam would say. “You’ve got issues.”

Well, this kind of comment only made Jenna feel worse. So she learned to try to hide those feelings from her husband and retreated to her girlfriends for a little sympathy on days when she felt down.

We all get the blues every now and then, right? There are those days when you wake up feeling less than fabulous. But how do you know if what you have is a minor case of the blues or a more serious depression? And what can you do about how you feel?

According to the American Psychological Association, women tend to suffer from depression almost twice as much as men do.

On one hand, female hormones can certainly play a factor, but Thomas Cummings, Ph.D., past president of the Hawaii Psychological Association and a clinical psychologist in private practice, says that stronger factors may be related to societal pressures.

“I think a stronger factor of depression [in women] may be related to a sexist society,” says Cummings. “Women suffer from domestic violence at much higher rates than men do, they suffer from sexual assault and sexual abuse at much higher rates and they also suffer from hidden barriers. Sexism can be very subtle and hidden. It’s changing, but it’s still a problem in certain areas of the country.”

Interestingly, says Cummings, a major increase in depression is seen during the early teen years for girls but not for boys. “You get into the ‘tweens’ - seventh and eighth grade and into high school - and the rates are double what they are for boys,” he explains. “This is when girls start to compare themselves to other girls and can start to have body image issues and low self-esteem.”

Cummings says this can even be traced back to earlier stages of development where girls are too often given compliments for being pretty rather than being praised for being smart, caring or thoughtful.

“These girls are set up to think that pretty is their value,” he says.

In the case of Jenna, Cummings says we have to look at the male role too - men who can be ignorant to emotional variability.

“If you have an emotionally aware male, he doesn’t take it personally [when you’re feeling down] and can be supportive,” he explains. “Emotionally restricted men can’t tolerate a woman who is anything less than happy all the time.

“Boys are not taught to acknowledge their feelings and so they get to be in relationships and don’t understand their part-ner’s feelings so they discount them.”

Cummings says that depression occurs in men too, but it’s hidden. “Because of the way men are raised, they can’t show weakness, so they just hide it. And they can tend to over-compensate by being too tough and macho.”

Depression, says Cummings, can be very biologically driven and some women can be depressed for seemingly no reason at all. The more stressors you have in your life, however, the more you run the risk of depression.

“Helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness are the key factors of depression,” he says. “In relationships, depression might come from that difference of women wanting more emotional connection and men being more restricted. Women need to pick men who are emotionally intelligent.”

The reality is that one in five people will suffer from depression at some point in their life. Roughly 19 million American adults suffer from depression every year, making it the most common mental illness in the country.

Symptoms of clinical depression may include an overwhelming and prolonged sense of helplessness or hopelessness. It also may include an excessive irritability with your friends, children or spouse, loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed, insomnia, change in appetite or excessive fatigue.

But Cummings assures that depression is an illness that is treatable.

“All of us go through the ‘blues’ at some point off and on, but when it lasts more than two weeks and interferes with your ability to function, that’s when you need to seek help,” says Cummings.

If you’re feeling blue, Cummings suggests socializing, exercising and getting in touch with your spiritual side. “When people get depressed, they tend to isolate themselves,” he says. “Socializing helps us stay focused on others.”

He says it’s very important for women to maintain their friendships and not focus solely on their relationship with their partner. In addition, he recommends exercising at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week and reconnecting with a faith or belief system.

And if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. For a free referral, call HPA at 521-8995.

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