Am I sad or depressed? This question may have crossed your mind at some point in life, and it can certainly be a difficult one to answer. But before delving into that, it is worth looking into new data released by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) on the rates of depression diagnoses in recent years.

According to their latest report, cases of diagnoses in the United States have risen by 33 percent since 2013. "Major Depression: The Impact on Overall Health" was published online May 10.

What groups have seen the biggest increase in depression diagnoses? 

In terms of gender, women were diagnosed with major depression at nearly two times the rate of men, at 6 percent and 3 percent respectively. Based on age groups, diagnoses among millennials and adolescents showed the sharpest spike, rising by 47 percent in the former. Adolescents, on the other hand, saw an increase of 47 percent for boys and 65 percent for girls.

"The high rates for adolescents and millennials could have a substantial health impact for decades to come," said Trent Haywood, senior vice president and chief medical officer for BCBSA, adding that further education and research were needed to identify the most effective methods to treat major depression.

How does depression differ from regular feelings of sadness?

Depression is a mental health disorder that can affect perception, attitude, physical health, and more. The quality that differentiates it from regular negative feelings is constancy.

Sadness is often triggered by an event such as a bad day work, getting a low grade on a test or fighting with a loved one. Typically, a person will shake off the feeling in time and go back to their regular state of mind. But when a person is depressed (which may or may not be triggered by a specific event), the sadness is constant and remains for an extended period, affecting daily behavior and general health. In some cases, a person could experience constant apathy or anger rather than sadness. 

"With depression, these alterations of mood (whether sadness, anger, or no emotion at all) are sustained, rather than merely being an appropriate emotional response to an event," said Dr. SooMi Lee-Samuel, medical director at Timberline Knolls in Illinois.

What are the signs that one may be experiencing depression?

Depression can cause a noticeable loss of interest in activities, even things a person used to be passionate about. Body changes and insomnia can also take place, evident in physical signs such as appetite problems, unintended weight loss/gain, tired eyes, low energy etc. A person affected by depression may avoid social interaction and face struggles in expressing themselves. 

The new study also noted those diagnosed with major depression were nearly 30 percent less healthy on average than those not diagnosed with major depression. Given the rising diagnoses among young groups, the authors suspected social media use as a potential aggravator for those vulnerable to the disorder.

"In preliminary literature, high users of social media have been linked with higher rates of social isolation than low users," Haywood said. "It is important to further explore this relationship."