October is National Depression Awareness Month. Lots of people have heard of depression, but most don’t understand what it really means, and it can be tricky to fully understand. The first thing to realize is that it’s completely normal to feel depressed. The human brain isn’t wired to feel happy 100% of the time. We’re supposed to feel sad or depressed after a pet dies, or after we lose a job, or at the end of a romantic relationship. But most people have learned how to cope with those kinds of emotions, and our mood usually bounces back.
People are often surprised to hear that our mood is supposed to go up and down throughout the day. But think about it: we might wake up grumpy, but then a jog makes us feel energized and happy. Then we go to work and our boss criticizes us and we feel down, but a good lunch resets our mood and then we feel good again. These so-called “mood swings” are healthy and don’t mean that we have depression or bipolar or any other mental health disorder. It’s just part of life.
However, there are some red flags to be aware of that might indicate that something else is going on. Indicators that might push normal feelings of sadness into clinical depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder or MDD. This may occur when we feel depressed for at least two weeks, and we lose the ability to feel any kind of pleasure from things that usually make us happy.
Let’s say you feel depressed for a few days, but then you hang out with friends, you’re laughing, and you’re having a great time. That means you aren’t in the middle of a major depressive episode because you’re feeling pleasure. If you’ve been depressed for weeks, and when you went to see your friends you didn’t cheer up at all, and playing with your kids isn’t making you feel better like it usually does, then that could mean you have MDD. People dealing with this disorder often feel empty or hopeless, and even activities that are usually fun instead feel like a chore. It’s a very scary feeling, and in more severe cares, MDD can make people want to die or even attempt suicide.
Types of depression
Depression is a complex condition, and people can experience depression in unique ways. Common forms of depression include:
- Major depressive disorder – Major depressive disorder is the most common form of depression and involves intense sadness and a loss of interest in previous sources of enjoyment. Other symptoms include fatigue, changes in appetite, and even adverse effects on cognitive functioning.
- Persistent depressive disorder – Clinicians often refer to persistent depressive disorder as dysthymia. The condition describes experiencing a sad and dark mood for around two years, and the condition often comes after a period of major depressive disorder.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) – This condition can arise as part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Clinicians consider PMDD to be a more intense form of PMS, and the condition typically features periods of emotional distress and feelings of hopelessness.
- Adjustment disorder with depressed mood – This condition features depression symptoms within three months of a significant life event. Life events that contribute to the condition can be both positive and negative.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – SAD includes depression symptoms during winter or rainy seasons when a person experiences less sunlight and gets outside less.
This checklist is to help you discuss your symptoms with your health care provider. It is not a substitute for support from your health care professional. Recognizing symptoms early on will help you find the support you need.
- I have moods which I would describe as sad, anxious or ‘empty’ which last for a long time
- I feel hopeless, pessimistic or have low self esteem
- I feel guilty and / or worthless
- My sleeping habits have changed; I oversleep or can’t sleep
- My eating habits have changed; I eat more or less
- My weight has changed; I have lost or gained weight
- I have less energy, feel tired, and slowed down
- I have begun to procrastinate and simple tasks are difficult
- I constantly feel like ‘life isn’t worth living like this’
- I have thought about death or suicide, or have attempted suicide
- I feel restless, irritable, my temper is bad and I can’t relax
- It’s difficult for me to concentrate, remember, and make decisions.
- My mind has an uncontrolled ‘sad’ feeling and I have negative thoughts I can’t keep out
- I have persistent physical symptoms (headaches, digestive disorders, chronic pain) which doesn’t respond to treatment
- I can’t turn off my anxiety and I uncontrollably worry about small things
- I have a difficult time making small talk and I am slowly isolating myself from others
- My family has a history of depression, alcoholism or nervous breakdowns
The most sinister part of depression: it tricks us into thinking that there’s no hope. That nothing is going to get better. That’s not true. There are actually some very good treatments for depression. A combination of talk therapy and psychiatric medication has been shown to be a very effective treatment. Keep in mind that medications alone are better than nothing, but they can take 6-8 weeks to show their full effect, and talk therapy is a crucial part of treatment for depression. If you think that you may have clinical depression, you can call the national suicide prevention hotline anytime, day or night. You don’t have to be feeling suicidal. It’s free and anonymous, and they can help you figure out a plan to start feeling better.
You can also schedule an appointment with a therapist, and they can help you get started on the path to more permanent change. Please give us a call today!