'I feel depressed' has become a common expression to describe a low mood. But clinical depression is much more than feeling down or discontent now and then.
Depression is actually a serious mood disorder that involves feeling sad and numb for weeks, months, or longer.
Depression has a wide range of triggers and can be experienced in different ways by different people. For some, it is a one-off episode triggered by something obvious, while for others depression slowly builds from a series of smaller life challenges or occurs out of the blue and for no exact reason.
Bringing with it many symptoms and challenges, depression can be quite debilitating and is not something someone can just 'get over' at will. But with the right treatment it is possible to make steps toward recovery.
As well as there being different levels to depression (mild, moderate, severe) there are also different forms of depression. These include seasonal affective disorder (SAD), mixed anxiety and depressive disorder, and bipolar I disorder.
What are the signs of Depression?
Depression can affect different people in different ways and to different degrees. It's important not to underestimate your symptoms just because someone else you know appears to have unalike or seemingly more challenging ones. While doctors do recognise varied levels to depression (mild, moderate, and severe) any depression at all is hard to manage by yourself and is something to take seriously and seek help over. If it is someone else you are worried about, it's important to recognise that many people hide their depression because of the stigma that unfortunately still exists, so a few noticeable symptoms might be signs of a much deeper issue.
Emotional and mental symptoms of depression can include:
Continuous low mood such as sadness, guilt, pessimism, worthlessness, and helplessness
Crying far more than usual
Negative feelings towards oneself and sometimes others
Reduced motivation to participate in activities or difficulty doing much at all
Loss of interest and enjoyment in life even in things you usually love
Increased anxiety and/ or panic attacks
Suicidal thoughts or intentions, a general sense life is not worth living
Physical symptoms of depression can include:
Sleeping more/ sleeping less/ disturbed sleep
Higher appetite/ lower appetite
Lack of energy and unexplained fatigue
Fuzzy thinking and difficulty remembering things
Poor concentration and coordination
Lack of libido
Exacerbation of pre-existing pains
A general heavy feeling that has you moving or speaking less quickly than usual
Because depression has such a wide variety of symptoms and triggers, it can be easy to assume someone is depressed when they are actually facing another challenge that needs different treatment, or when their depression is actually a side effect of something else.
It is always advisable to seek advice from a professional, but here are other issues with symptoms similar to depression:
Low moods: It's normal to feel unhappy after a traumatic experience or unexpected challenge. It's when low moods go on far longer than normal, or our thoughts become far more negative than a circumstance requires or we start to think life will never be good again, that depression has been triggered.
Grief: Losing a loved one is emotionally challenging for the best of us. Like depression, bereavement causes lack of sleep and appetite and a severe drop in mood. And grief can bring low-grade depression. But there are differences between grief and clinical depression. Grief is a healthy, normal process of sadness that comes in waves. It does not commonly brings suicidal intentions or the belief that life will never be good again, as depression does (although in some cases grief does then turn into clinical depression).
Anxiety: Anxiety and depression usually come hand-in-hand, so if you have depression you are likely to also experience anxiety. But it is possible to experience anxiety alone and not alongside depression. If you experience fear and panic or constantly feel threatened, but don't have a sense of hopelessness and despair, you might only have an anxiety disorder.
Stress: Extreme demands on your time and energy often bring low moods and a sense you can't cope, but if it only lasts a few days or a couple of weeks and you feel fine again it's likely just stress. If, however, you find the feelings last even after circumstances have resolved themselves, you might have developed depression.
Like with many psychological health conditions, depression tends to be misunderstood, both in its causes and its treatment.
There has traditionally been an idea that depression is something to be ashamed about, when really it is a very common problem that is not related to anything the individual has or hasn't done and is not within their control or a choice they have made.
Sadly there has also been a stigma against seeking help. Some still feel that admitting to depression and seeking the assistance of a psychologist is a sign of weakness, while in fact the opposite is true. Seeking help for depression is a sign of personal strength and self-awareness.
If you suspect you are suffering from depression it's important to find the help you need.
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