These days we often hear people say, “I’m so depressed” when describing how they are feeling in the moment or as a response to something negative that is happening in their lives. Feeling down or sad is certainly a valid emotion however, the clinical term, depression, implies something more than being sad or feeling overwhelmed by a difficult life situation. Depression is a serious condition which requires attention and treatment with either psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both in many cases. Clinical depression (also called Major Depressive Disorder) is typically confirmed by a psychologist or psychiatrist by the presence of at least five symptoms for at least a two week period.
So how can we distinguish between someone who is feeling the blues versus someone who might be showing signs of depression and what are some of the risk factors for people developing depression? There are a number of red flags that may indicate that someone may be developing clinical depression.
For those who are depressed the feelings of sadness tend to be described as an “empty” feeling, like a gaping hole. Some people will describe having a feeling of despair which can often be accompanied by feelings of increased anxiety. Others will describe experiencing emotional numbness as if they don’t feel anything at all.
Some other feelings that may indicate that someone may be struggling with depression include feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, as if nothing they do or try to do will make any difference. Others will feel a sense of guilt or worthlessness. These feelings will sometimes be described as having a sense that they have little to no value in this world at the moment or they feel guilty that responsible for another person’s reaction or behaviour. Someone who is feeling this way may misinterpret trivial, day-to-day events, as evidence of person defects in themselves. They might also feel an exaggerated sense of responsibility for things that happen in other people’s lives. In more severe cases, someone with depression might blame themselves for things of a much larger magnitude, like world poverty or homelessness.
In severe cases of depression someone may have thoughts of death or suicide or may even think or plan how they might commit suicide. If someone you know expresses these sort of thoughts or feelings, it is extremely important that they get the help needed to prevent this. They need to know that these feelings are very treatable with the appropriate help and immediate help should be sought.
If you are concerned that someone you care about is at risk of harming themselves, the best course of action is to visit your local hospital’s emergency room. Most hospitals have a psychiatrist on call who can evaluate the person, offer medication to help them get through the crisis and create a safety plan. Giving someone you know emergency numbers like 911, or crisis lines such as tel-aide or suicide action Montréal are critical in moments when they want to reach out but may not want to call a friend or family member.
Along with feelings of emptiness, guilt, despair, and anxiety, people suffering from depression may also show behavioural signs like losing interest in certain activities. Often, activities that were once pleasurable, that the person engaged in, will no longer feel fun or enjoyable. Some people lose interest in spending time with friends, exercising, going out for a walk, etc. and may choose to spend more time alone indoors. Avoidance and withdrawal from pleasant activities will increase over time if the person does not seek help, and this can contribute to some of the feelings the person may already be experiencing.
Some people with depression will also feel fatigued a lot of the time. They may feel that no matter how much sleep they get, they always feel tired or like there is a constant cloud over them. The opposite can also occur in which they feel restless and need to move around a lot. This might feel like anxiety that is out of their control and they feel they need to keep busy to keep it under control.
Many people with depression will also experience a change in their appetite. For some, the feeling makes them not want to eat, which can result in weight loss. For others, food can be a source of comfort which can lead to overeating and weight gain. This, combined with fatigue and a decrease in physical activity can lead to unhealthy levels of weight gain which can also affect self-esteem and self-worth.
Depression can affect one’s ability to concentrate, which can cause them to make mistakes regularly and may interfere with their ability to remember things they normally wouldn’t forget. They might express difficulty in making decisions are attending to things.
In some cases, depression that occurs over a long period of time can express itself in physical symptoms which the person may not realize is tied to their experience. Some people experience chronic headaches, body aches or pains, cramps, or even recurring digestive problems. Back pain is a common complaint of physical pain in people with depression.
Often, these symptoms are experienced with no clear cause to explain them.
For some, the fatigue they experience may cause them to sleep more than usual, at times an entire day for example. Others may feel agitated, leaving them not wanting to sleep and even finding it difficult to sleep when they try.
If you are experiencing some of the symptoms in the list above or you know someone who is experiencing them and they are affecting your life, do not hesitate to ask for help. You or the person you know may be suffering from depression.
Seeing your doctor is an important first step. A psychologist or psychiatrist can diagnose depression.
Written by: Mayte Parada, PhD