What does depression look like?

Do you think you may be depressed? Concerned about a loved one? Here are some warning signs to look out for, things not to say, what to do if you need help.

It is natural for everyone to experience times when they feel sad or “down;”  we all feel anxious, restless, or upset sometimes. But when these things – or other negative feelings – become chronic, it may be time to talk about the possibility of depression.

According to a 2015 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report, more than 6 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in the last year. Depression is a medical condition caused by chemical and biological imbalances that impact mood. There are many factors that can cause depression and multiple risk factors that can increase people’s chances of experiencing depression.

While depression is relatively common, it can be difficult to spot in yourself or others, especially because it can present in many different ways. Depression can be chronic, low-grade unhappiness with life or intense feelings of hopelessness and negative thoughts – often both at different times.

Some common warning signs can include:

  1. Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. Including self-loathing or strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Depression may make a person feel like they are worthless or a failure at everything.
  2. Loss of interest in daily activities. No longer caring to participate in activities including hobbies, relationships, school, job, etc.
  3. Low energy levels and problems sleeping. Falling or staying asleep can be challenging. They may feel like they can’t get out of bed, or feel exhausted all the time.
  4. Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated or restless; perhaps with a low tolerance level or short temper.
  5. Reckless behavior. Including substance use, problem gambling, reckless driving, or other risky behaviors.
  6. Concentration problems. Struggling to focus, recall things, or make decisions. May also feel “disconnected” from their life or as if they are observing their lives without actively participating.

There are also common misconceptions and ideas about depression that can perpetuate negative connotations about mental illness, reduce access to care, and increase risk factors.

  1. “You don’t look depressed.” There is no universal “look” to depression. Many individuals with depression successfully manage daily life – including relationships, employment, hobbies, and more – without outward struggle.  Battling depression and anxiety is often internal and it may not manifest in “stereotypical” visible ways.
  2. “You have nothing to be sad about.” While life events can impact emotional wellbeing, depression does not hinge on what is happening in your life.  Having “good things” does not make depression disappear.
  3. “Just be happy!” Depression is not something people “just get over” or “snap out of.” It is not a choice and can feel all-consuming and hopeless.

While anyone can experience clinical depression, there are risk factors that make them more likely to. These include genetics, hormonal changes, certain illnesses, drug or alcohol use, and some medications. Major life changes, like divorce, job loss, or a loved one’s death, can also trigger depression. While family history alone does not mean someone will develop depression, mood disorders can run in families.

Help is available. At Foundation 2 Crisis Services, a trained crisis counselor can talk you through your immediate situation and feelings, and connect you with ongoing care. For treating depression, individual plans vary but can include therapy or counseling, medication, and positive coping skills.

Oct. 7 is National Depression Screening Day, an opportunity to learn more about depression and connect with support. Foundation 2 Crisis Services can help connect you with resources including depression screenings and mental health care – call us for free 24/7/365 at 319-362-2174.

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