sad person on couch | short term depression
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“If I have short periods of depression, such as during finals or for two to four days at a time, should I talk to a professional?”
—Sabrina S., first-year graduate student, Utah State University

This is a good question because it’s often unclear whether certain symptoms are reasonable responses to a specific context or event or whether they’re signs of more urgent mental health issues.

To give you a technical answer, a diagnosis of depression (also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression) usually requires at least five or more symptoms that are present every day (or almost every day) for at least two weeks. That does not mean we should not pay attention to shorter bouts of sadness, but we can at least acknowledge that you are probably not experiencing a major depressive disorder. 

Does the mood impact your normal daily functioning?Based on what you shared, a depressed mood during exams and up until a few days afterward could be an understandable response to stress, anxiety, and worry. My suggestion would be to note what triggers your low moods and how long you notice them lasting. Does the mood impact your normal daily functioning? If you notice that it only happens in higher-stress situations, then it’s more likely a normal response to that particularly stressful situation and you can explore coping strategies to help manage it. 

To be a bit more thorough, it would be a good idea to clarify what you mean by short periods of depression. An assessment with a counselor on your campus can help with this. For instance, are you experiencing a low or depressed mood only, or do you have other symptoms? Feeling sad—or having any emotion, really—is our body’s way of communicating something to us. When this happens, we want to investigate what our emotions are trying to tell us, as well as remember that we do not (and will not!) always feel like this. 

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