While depression is a wide-spread issue, it is often difficult for psychologist to see how it differs from other disorders. For example, take a look at drug abuse. In both disorders, there are memory issues. Furthermore, they are both characterized by a somber mood. If we then compare the symptoms, are we then to speak of depression or drug abuse? Because of issues like the aforementioned, it is important to know the difference between such problems. How do they differ from depression?

Grief: how does it differ from depression?

Causes of depression can be very versatile. Sometimes it can be caused by certain happenings in life. For example, the loss of a loved one, a relationship ending, getting fired from your job, .... Often, a combination of several factors finally causes a depression to develop. The process of grief can sometimes bring people off-balance. Losing a loved one is an emotional happening. Everyone deals differently with loss. The danger, however, is to be stuck in this phase of grief: the emotional balance cannot be restored. This increases the chances of developing depressed symptoms. It thus differs from depression in that processing grief can simply be a cause of depression. The unhappy state of mind during grief is characterized by grief only, without any other causes. The DSM-IB states that the unhappy state of mind which is associated with depression, cannot be caused by grief. There therefore is a clear difference.

Dysthymic disorder: how does it differ from depression?

There are mild forms of depression, too. This means that fewer symptoms are present, and that the present symptoms are not always present, either. The DSM-IV states that a somber mood is something which might be present in dysthymic disorder, but that it does not have to be. There is the difference from depression: there is a mood which is not constant. In depression, this mood is present every day, during the entire day. Another way in which dysthymic disorder differs from depression is the time in which it is present. To have a dysthymic disorder, the symptoms must be present for at least 2 years. In a depression, the symptoms need only have been present for 2 weeks.

Physical complaints: how do they differ from depression?

In certain physical diseases, depressive symptoms can be present. Examples are found in cancer or AIDS, in which depression often occurs. In Parkinson's disease, a lack of thyroid hormones, or with certain viral diseases, depressed symptoms can also be present. The difference between these and an actual depression are found in the criteria in the DSM-IV. They namely state that a depression may not occur as a result of a medical problem. Thus, in these cases, one does not speak of a depression.

Substance abuse: how does it differ from depression?

With abuse of drugs, medication, or alcohol, depression often occurs. Yet, diagnosing it is often difficult, as the usage of substances is sometimes seen as 'self-medication' in depressed people. There thus is a correlation. This group is difficult to treat, because one wants to treat the cause of the problem. In this situation, one does not speak of a depression, either. It differs from depression in the way the DSM-IV defines the criteria for depression. A depression may not be caused by substance abuse. Because of this, people often choose to first treat the substance abuse, before treating the depression.


After having read the article above, you have probably gotten a clearer idea of whether you are depressed or not. 15Minutes4Me.com is an online self-help program which treats depression, burnout, and stress. With the help of videos and solution focused questions you spend fifteen minutes daily to treat your depression. The program works on an anonymous basis and it is built on scientific grounds. From research it shows that participants are 40% happier after 3 weeks!

Are you depressed?

You can at any time fill out our free depression test. You can fill out some twenty questions anonymously, and then be sent to your score page automatically. Here, you will also receive an interpretation of your results!