I confess, I’m a lover of sad songs. And I’m not the only one. As a culture, we romanticize “feeling blue”. We have a whole genre of music, The Blues, that revels in hard times and love lost. But what happens when all that revelry turns to pure pain and melancholy? How do we know when our blue mood is something more, like Depression?
We throw the words depressed and depression around pretty frequently, from the very casual, “I’m so depressed”, said when things aren’t quite going our way to media discussions about depression suffered by those who survived Japan’s 2011 tsunami to scientific discussions about Traumatic Brain Injury increasing the chances of experiencing depression. Despite it’s place in our everyday lexicon, what is depression really?
Depression can come from experiencing a difficult life situation, like a break-up, financial difficulties, or suffering the death of a loved one. For some people, there is a biological cause to their depression and they may have a family history of depression or other mental health issues. No matter the cause, depression is serious and should be treated either with talk therapy, medication, or both.
How do you know if you or someone you know is depressed?
Here are some things to watch for:
Changes in Sleep. Sleeping a lot more than usual or sleeping less can be a signal that something is wrong. Trouble staying asleep may also be a clue.
Changes in Appetite or Weight. Not eating/eating very little or eating excessively can indicate a mood change. Likewise, losing or gaining more than 5% of your body weight without making an effort to do so needs attention.
Difficulty Concentrating. Some people experiencing depression find it hard to concentrate on tasks that are typically easy to complete or find that they have trouble staying focused.
Not Enjoying Things. Another symptom of depression is anhedonia. In medical-ese that means no longer enjoying what once brought pleasure. If you love to dance, for instance, and find that your dancing feet are now always on the couch, pay attention.
Isolation/Withdrawal. This is one of the tricky symptoms of depression. Many of us are so busy we don’t notice that we are no longer being social in our free time. We chalk all of our staying to ourselves as resting. Take note if your inner social butterfly has been grounded.
Irritability/Anger. Feeling chronically angry and/or irritated is also a common symptom of depression that often gets overlooked. Frequent mood swings and crying jags are also red flags.
Excessive Fatigue/Physical Pain. This symptom should always be evaluated by a medical doctor to rule out physical illness or injury. Your primary care physician can evaluate you for depression and help refer you to a mental health care provider(s) if your physical symptoms are found to be caused by depression.
Feelings of Hopelessness. Feelings of impending doom don’t have to be the norm. Feeling ‘stuck’ or that ‘things will never change’ are indications that you have lost hope.
Thoughts of Death/Suicide. Thoughts of death or ending one’s own life are beyond serious! Don’t write this off as attention-seeking behavior. Call 911 or a suicide hotline immediately if you are planning to harm yourself or know of someone in immediate danger of taking their own life. National suicide hotlines, like 1-800-273-TALK , will help you get in touch with mental health treatment resources near you.
If it’s not an emergency, but you or someone you love is grappling with these symptoms, use one of the resources listed below to find help or contact your local department of health, as many operate mental health crisis centers. Another alternative, if you have health insurance is to check your insurer’s provider list or call their provider referral line. You can usually find this information listed on your insurance card.