Identifying Depression: Knowing When To Get Help

Identifying Depression: Knowing When To Get Help

We often hear the phrase “going through depression” thrown around casually in conversation. We may come home from a bad day at work and say that we are depressed. We may receive bad news about a loved one and tell others and ourselves that we are depressed. However, more often than not we confuse sadness with depression. Sadness is only a symptom of depression, and because we tend to associate these together, we struggle to identify depression and get timely help.

The Problem with Trivialising Depression

The inability to differentiate between sadness and depression can lead us to neglect a case of a severe psychological condition like depression while overreacting to a normal emotional state of sadness. If we overuse the term depression when we are describing our emotional state of sadness, we may unintentionally trivialize a major mental health disorder. Depression is a serious mental health disorder that has vast implications on our personal and professional lives, and our community as a whole. As of 2017, around 300 million people around the world have depression.

Symptoms of Depression

  • They can include:
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Pessimism and hopelessness
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of interest in things once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Aches, pains, headaches, or cramps that won’t go away
  • Digestive problems that don’t get better, even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

Most of us feel sad, lonely, or depressed at times. It’s a normal reaction to loss, life’s struggles, or an injured self-esteem. But when these emotions become overwhelming, cause physical symptoms, and last for long periods of time, they can keep you from leading a functional, active life. That is when it’s time to seek professional help.

Identifying High Functioning Depression

High-functioning depression is a real thing and common among adults who are trying to keep up with responsibilities while silently struggling with mental illness. It can have serious
consequences if not addressed and treated. The symptoms of high-functioning depression are similar to those caused by major depression but less severe. They include changes in eating, sleeping habits, low self-esteem, fatigue, hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating. Symptoms persist on most days, causing a constant low mood that lasts across two years or more. Most people function almost normally but struggle internally. Coping is possible for high-functioning depression through medications and therapy. The diagnosis for high-functioning depression is officially called a persistent depressive disorder, or PDD. This type of depression can be difficult to detect in oneself, but especially in others. To the outside world, a person with PDD seems fine. Internally that person is struggling. High-functioning depression may not seem as serious as major depression, but it should be diagnosed and treated. Living with PDD can be a struggle but treatment and self-management can significantly improve quality of life.

Coping with sadness vs. coping with depression

Sadness can be overcome within time. You can express your emotions, “cry it out”, go out with friends, or spend time outdoors. Expressing sadness over the loss of a close one may take some time, but it is still possible to find happiness in other aspects of your life.

Depression is best dealt with using a combination of medications and psychotherapy. The medications used to treat depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). All medications come with side effects, and therefore it is essential to have a conversation about it before starting a medication-based treatment as recommended by your psychiatrist. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the mainstay psychotherapy approach in treating depression. Treatment for depression does not happen overnight; this is a process and can take some time, and different treatment approaches. Depression is a prevalent mental illness, and many treatments benefit most individuals.

No two people are affected by depression in exactly the same way, neither is there a “one size fits all” treatment to cope with depression. What works for one person might not work for others. By becoming as informed as possible to be able to identify symptoms of depression, you can take steps like going to therapy and adopting lifestyle changes that can help you overcome depression, feel hopeful again, and reclaim your life!