And there are pages where you can read about how to deal with depression and how to find help for depression.
I sincerely hope that this will be a very, very helpful site for anybody who is concerned about how to read the signs right, and hopefully you will find useful advice about how to help yourself and others.
Depression is a common but very treatable illness, and recognizing the signs early may save your life – or the life of someone you love.
We all go through periods of both sadness and elation. Struggles, disappointments, unexpected circumstances and stressful situations are part of life, so it is understandable that our moods often fluctuate. But, sometimes these feelings hold on until they interfere with our daily lives and begin to affect us on every level – physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Unfortunately, the word “depressed” is often used far too casually in today’s vernacular. When someone is dealing with normal sadness or discouragement, they will say things like, “I am feeling depressed today”, or “My life is depressing”. Since the distinction between normal mood swings and clinical depression has become so blurred, those who truly suffer from the illness wait too long to get help because they believe that the “feelings will pass”.
On the other side of the coin, being diagnosed with clinical depression has often come with a negative stigma that makes people feel guilty for not being able to handle life. They blame themselves and believe that by ignoring the symptoms and applying a little determination they will be able to “get through it”. Would this approach make sense if someone was suffering from pneumonia or a broken leg? Of course not! The truth is, depression is a very real health issue that can be caused by any number of factors, from the loss of a loved one, to a prolonged illness such as heart disease or cancer, to medications, to major life changes – even good ones. And, just like pneumonia or a broken leg, in most cases, it is very treatable.
Although most people are hesitant to talk about it, depression is actually more common than you might think. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 121 million people worldwide suffer from some type of depression. They predict that by the year 2020, depression will be the second highest cause of “lost years of healthy life”.
But, although treatment has an 80% success rate, the WHO claims that about two-thirds of those suffering from depression will never seek the help they need.
Of course, some people live in countries where medical care and treatments are not available. But, for those living in Western or developed countries, the reasons are basically two-fold.
One: They don’t realize how common the issue really is and how many others are experiencing the exact same symptoms and feelings. They feel like they are suffering alone – like there is something wrong with them and that admitting a problem would be a sign of weakness. And, they don’t know how simple and successful their treatment options can be. Depression is very misunderstood because the media (movies, television, etc) often portrays only the extremes of the illness. The negative stigma attached makes people hesitant to seek treatment. Understanding that there are many types and levels of depression, and that millions of people worldwide experience some form of this illness at least once in their lifetimes, will make people more comfortable about finding the help needed to improve their situation.
Two: One of the main reasons why depression is left untreated is that many people simply do not recognize the signs or symptoms – either in themselves or in others. Again, because the illness is so misunderstood, many common indicators are overlooked or ignored.
Recognizing the signs and being willing to seek treatment will help change your perspective so you can move on with your life. Understanding that depression is very serious – but also very common AND very treatable – can help you acknowledge your problem so you can begin working toward recovery and improving your quality of life.
As already mentioned, depression is more than just sadness, although this emotion is a common symptom. Most of us will experience times in our lives when we feel sad, dejected, discouraged, or helpless; but, when a depressed mood lasts for a prolonged period of time and begins to interfere with our day-to-day lives, then there may be a deeper issue. If life feels overwhelming and just making it through the day seems like an insurmountable task, then it might be time to seek some help.
It is important to remember that depression has many faces and will look different depending on the person. Everyone will manifest the signs and symptoms differently depending on age, gender, circumstance, culture, or support systems. Biological and chemical factors also play a role in the presentation of depression.
• Men are more likely than women to become aggressive, angry, irritable, and engage in substance abuse or reckless behavior.
• Women are twice as likely to experience depression than men, partly due to hormonal factors associated with menstruation (PMS, PMDD, Perimenopausal depression) and child birth (postpartum depression). Symptoms most commonly include changes in eating habits, altered sleeping patterns (insomnia or oversleeping), excessive crying, helplessness, hopelessness, and guilt.
• Teenagers will sometimes express feelings of sadness, although grumpiness and irritability are more common signs of adolescent depression. They will often have violent thoughts or an obsession with death. While some teens suffering from depression are sullen and withdrawn, others can be aggressive, resulting in behavioral issues at school or work.
• Older adults will experience more of the physical symptoms such as aches and pains. Depression often goes undiagnosed in the elderly since other life changes – such as health issues, death of friends, or loss of independence – are used to explain away many of the symptoms.
Unlike other illnesses, depression can be very difficult to diagnose. There is not a specific test that you can take, and since it can vary so widely from person to person, doctors have to look for a number of different signs before determining a diagnosis.
Although depression can look different in each person, there are some common signs and symptoms. Again, some of these symptoms are part of the normal ups and downs of life, but to decide whether you are experiencing normal sadness or something more serious, doctors will ask several questions such as:
• How many of the common symptoms are you experiencing?
• How strong or prevalent are these signs or feelings?
• How long have you been experiencing these symptoms?
• What impact are these symptoms having on your day-to-day life? How much are they interfering with your work, social life, and ability to take care of your family or complete everyday tasks?
• How are these symptoms affecting your eating and sleeping patterns? Have you lost or gained an unusual amount of weight?
When life become overwhelming and symptoms become disabling, then you may be dealing with depression.
So, how can you know if you are depressed? Remember, depression affects your entire life and your entire body – physically, emotionally, and mentally. If you, or someone you love, have been experiencing five or more of the typical symptoms listed below for at least two weeks, then you may be dealing with some form of depression.
Although you know yourself better than anyone else, it is important that you seek professional help if you think you may be suffering from depression. While self-diagnosis can be helpful, it is often not sufficient in overcoming the symptoms successfully. And, with new knowledge and advancements being made in the field of mental health, a doctor or psychologist can offer you a wide variety of treatment options to help you find the solution that is best for you and your situation.
Emotional/Cognitive Signs of Depression:
“Most people who are depressed feel intensely sad and dejected. They describe themselves as feeling “miserable”, “empty”, and “humiliated.” They report getting little pleasure from anything and they tend to lose their sense of humor. Some depressed people also experience anxiety, anger, or agitation. This sea of misery may find expression in frequent crying spells; those who do not actually cry often report that they feel like crying. Many depressed people seem to lose their feelings of affection for friends or relatives” (Comer, 1992, p.260).
The emotional symptoms are the ones that are most often associated with depression and include things such as guilt, self-blame, self-loathing, hopelessness, helplessness, sadness, worthlessness, and loss of joy. Some people become angry or irritable while others adopt a bleak outlook on life, exaggerating their problems and believing that there is nothing they can do to make things better. Feeling emotionally empty can lead to indecisiveness, uncontrollable negative thoughts, or the idea that life is simply not worth living.
Mental Signs of Depression:
Many people will notice the emotional/cognitive symptoms but are often unaware of the mental signs of depression.
Those suffering from depression will often have difficulty concentrating, may lose focus easily, and struggle with making decisions. Many people say that they have a hard time remembering things and feel like their brain is “sluggish” or even “numb”. Tasks that were once easy, now seem overwhelming and take much longer to complete. These symptoms often interfere with the ability to work and may eventually impact simple, everyday jobs.
Another common, but extremely serious sign is the desire for death. Emotional symptoms such as hopelessness and worthlessness combined with an inability to focus and complete simple tasks can lead to such desperation that death seems like the only way of escape.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 15% of clinically depressed people commit suicide and more than half of all suicides are committed by clinically depressed people.
So, it is obvious by these astounding statistics that a major risk of depression is suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the following signs, it is important to seek help immediately.
• Expressing feelings of hopelessness.
• Refusing to acknowledge or discuss the future.
• Preoccupation with death or dying: this can often be seen in artwork , writing, music, choice of clothing, jokes, or an obsession with others who have committed suicide or died traumatic deaths.
• Neglect of personal appearance.
• Risky behavior: engaging in activities with little regard for life or safety such as driving recklessly or substance abuse.
• Giving away possessions or getting “affairs in order”.
• Comments such as: “Nothing matters anyway”, “I don’t want to live anymore”, “I wish I was dead”, “I want out”, “I can’t take it anymore”, “Everyone would be better without me”, “I might as well kill myself”, “I don’t matter anyway.” Even if these things are said in a seemingly joking manner, they should not be overlooked, especially if combined with any other sign of depression. If you have found yourself saying – or even thinking – these comments, then you should make an appointment to discuss these feelings with your doctor.
PHYSICAL DEPRESSION SIGNS:
Depression can often bring many physical symptoms that can be very frustrating and can make even the simplest tasks extremely difficult.
Change in sleeping patterns: Some people find that they cannot sleep – they either suffer from insomnia or they wake up in the middle of the night or early morning and cannot get back to sleep. The opposite is also true, with some people sleeping far too much.
Change in eating habits: A loss of appetite or interest in food can result in significant weight loss, or the attempt to fill the emptiness inside with food can lead to overeating and rapid weight gain.
Fatigue: Many people who suffer from depression tire easily or feel tired all the time. Some say their body feels “heavy”, making normal, everyday tasks exhausting.
Lower productivity: Since those experiencing depression may move slower and find it difficult to stay focused or think clearly, productivity is often reduced, especially at work.
Loss of libido: A reduced desire for sex often accompanies depression, as does a loss of interest in any activity that was once enjoyable.
Alcohol consumption: A large percentage of people who suffer from depression also have problems with substance abuse. Statistics are unclear since it can not always be determined if alcohol consumption and drug use leads to depression, or if the desire to relieve the symptoms of depression leads to more alcohol and drug use. It’s the old “what comes first” puzzle, but most doctors agree that the two go hand-in-hand.
Aches and pains: Muscle weakness and pain, headaches, stomach/digestive problems, dizziness, and irregular menses are the most commonly reported physical symptoms, although depression can weaken the immune system and cause many other physical issues such as colds, flus, and infections.
Although the symptoms of depression can be divided into three categories, they are all very connected and can actually build on each other.
“…depression has many symptoms other than sadness, and the symptoms often reinforce one another. Chronic indecisiveness, for example, may lead to poor job performance, which in turn leads to a lower self-image, less self-confidence, and still more indecisiveness….” (Comer, 1992, p. 260).
You can see how it can begin to “snowball” until you feel completely overwhelmed. Some people do successfully overcome depression on their own, but most need help to get better. It is important to be aware of the signs and seek treatment as soon as possible so that you can begin recovering and avoid spiralling even deeper into the darkness of depression.
Treatment for Depression:
Finding the correct treatment will depend on both the cause and type of depression. Postpartum depression will not likely be treated the same way as bipolar disorder, so it is important that you give your doctor all the necessary information needed to find the most effective way to help you get better.
Types of Depression:
Major Depressive Disorder: This type of depression can be very disabling and can interfere with a person’s ability to work and function. At least five symptoms must be present for two weeks or more for a diagnosis. Symptoms are usually constant, range from moderate to severe, and can last up to six months if left untreated. Some people will experience only one episode in their lifetime, while others will have recurring episodes; although treatments are available that can help reduce the risk of recurrence. Major depressive disorder is very treatable, with a 80-90% success rate.
Dysthymia (mild depression): This is also referred to as chronic depression. It is characterized by less severe symptoms than those of major depression, however, the depressed mood lasts for at least two years and is often interspersed with short periods of normal moods. Although it is not as disabling, those who suffer from dysthymia can also experience episodes of major depression. This is called “double depression”. Dysthymia has a lower recovery rate than major depression, although the reasons for this are unclear.
Seasonal Affective Disorder: This is characterized by major depressive episodes that fluctuate depending on the season. Since most episodes appear in the winter months, this form of depression is more common in northern climates that have long, dark winters. S.A.D is most prevalent among younger people but is very treatable with light therapy.
Postpartum Depression: About 80% of mothers will experience some form of “baby blues” after giving birth. This is normal and usually goes away within two weeks following delivery. However, approximately 10% of women will develop postpartum depression. Contrary to popular belief, postpartum depression does not always appear immediately, but can develop anytime in the first year after giving birth. Symptoms most often include crying spells, poor concentration and focus, sadness, feelings of failure and inadequacy, fatigue, and even thoughts of suicide. If left untreated, a small percentage of women will develop a more severe form of depression known as postpartum psychosis.
Bipolar Disorder: This type of depression is characterized by alternating cycles of depressed moods with episodes of mania (elation and hyperactivity). The switch is usually gradual, though not always. When depressed, the symptoms are the same as those of major depression, but very different treatment is required. The typical treatment for major depressive disorder will actually make bipolar depression far worse.
Major depressive disorder, dysthymia, seasonal affective disorder and postpartum depression are all “unipolar” since they only involve depression. Bipolar disorder is different since it involves two different mood extremes (depression and mania). And, unlike unipolar depression, bipolar disorders are much less common but affect men and women equally. Treatments have been successful; however, management is usually a lifelong endeavor.
Causes of Depression:
The causes of depression are as numerous as the symptoms. Studies have proven that genetics plays a roles, with major depression being as much as three times more likely among immediate relatives of those with the disorder as compared to the general population. Gender, medication, negative attitudes and low self-esteem, serious physical or emotional illnesses, hormonal changes, or traumatic and stressful situations can all contribute to the onset of depression.
So, as you can see, the various types of depression, though sharing several similar characteristics, can differ quite significantly. But regardless of the severity or reasons, depression should never go untreated. With the proper information, intervention, and treatment program, most people suffering from depression can fully recover or learn to manage their symptoms so that they can live a full and productive life.
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