When Depressive Symptoms Are Not Caused By Depression
Mental Health Awareness
I did not want to write this column. When I paused to think about it, the sudden lack of interest struck me as odd. I love writing this column and love all the positive feedback I have been getting from readers. However, the column was just one thing on a long list of things I did not want to do; walk the dog, socialize, cook, do laundry, clean the house or anything else on the list of normal daily activities. The winter blues had set in big time. Or had they?
Six weeks ago I was fine, busily making plans for the next chapter of my life and relishing in the joy a new puppy had brought to the family. Well, for everyone but the cat, but she is adjusting. I admit there is not much pleasure to be had in cleaning the house, at least not for me, though there is some small semblance of accomplishment on those days it seems like a mammoth task. For me, the far bigger hint that something was really wrong was that I was losing interest in my interests; pets, nature, relationships with my friends. I was also plagued by low energy, persistent sadness, and difficulty concentrating. I could not write a column because I knew I could not concentrate long enough.
By the time I figured out what was going on my hair was brittle, my voice was hoarse, my eyes were sensitive to light and I was cold all the time. With my doctor’s permission I adjusted my thyroid medication slightly and within two days I was a different person. I was myself. You see, at the same time I was diagnosed with Major Depression I was also diagnosed with Hypothyroidism. With this condition the thyroid gland does not release a sufficient amount of hormones. Among other things sufferers experience low mood, fatigue and diminished concentration, all hallmarks of Depression.
In fact, I have always wondered what would have happened if my thyroid problem had been caught earlier. Would I have escaped a major depressive episode? I will never know the answer to that question. Because of the link, however, this is my most important health issue as far as self-care goes. For me a slight change in lifestyle can throw the thyroid out of balance. That means if I gain or lose five pounds my medication may need adjustment, or if I begin a vigorous exercise regimen, or when I inevitably fall off the exercise wagon (LOL). It can also take up to six weeks for the results of any adjustment to show up in the required blood test.
There is a long list of conditions and disorders that can mimic Depression: Hypoglycemia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Diabetes and Vitamin D Deficiency just to name a few. Mental illness is often difficult to diagnose, because it relies largely on a checklist of self-reported symptoms. According to a 2012 article in Current Psychiatry, “26 to 45 percent of patients referred for depression did not meet the diagnostic criteria for a depressive illness”. So if you are being treated for Depression and are not feeling better a blood test may be a good next step.
Hey, look at that! I wrote the column I did not want to write. I am definitely feeling much better.
Cindy Macrae is a journalist, mental health advocate and stigma-busting survivor of Major Depression who would like to remind readers that no column should be taken as a substitute for medical advice.
There is a long list of conditions and disorders that can mimic Depression