Is depression really depression?

It is not often that I compliment the media. But to give them credit, they have increased the awareness of mental illness in our culture - particularly depression. Whether it's television, movies, radio, or print, I think they have done a good job of decreasing some of the stigma that was out there 30-40-50 years ago.

In a study released in this week's Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers state that 1 in 4 people characterized as depressed are in fact struggling with "normal mental fallout from a recent emotional blow, like a ruptured marriage, the loss of a job, or the collapse of an investment." (New York Times) What?

One of the tools that I have used in the past are some simple one page depression screening tests. Many primary care offices use these checklists - whether they are administered by a nurse or even self-administered by the patient. These checklists can open the door to discussion with the patient/client. Researchers state that these screening tests do not take into account "normal mental fallout."

"Larger and larger numbers of people are reporting symptoms on these checklists, and there's no way to know whether we're finding normal sadness responses or real depression," said Jerome C. Wakefield, a professor of social work at New York University and the study's lead author.
Normal sadness response verses real depression? Mental illness is confusing enough (clinically) with terms like depression, dysthymia, mania, hypomania, generalized anxiety, panic, obsessive compulsive, bipolar, PTSD, and others.
Dr. Darrel Regier, director of research for the American Psychiatric Association, said, "I think the concern this study raises is real, and that we do need to be very careful not to overdiagnose a normal, homeostatic response to loss and call it a disorder."
I think this study will allow physicians and other mental health professionals to brush off depression as only a reaction to a "normal" sad event. This will lead to underdiagnosis (and delayed treatment) of depression. So much has been done in the early identification and discussion of treatment, that I fear this study will negate part of this progress, and allow depression denial to return.