What is Depression?
Depression can be defined as feelings of severe despondency, dejection, and inadequacy. However, depression is a multi-faceted mental health condition. That is, there are many different types of depressive disorders. The most common ‘type’ of depression is known as major depressive disorder. Depression is more than just a low mood, it is a serious mental health condition that affects an individuals physical and mental well-being.
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In a single year, approximately one million Australian adults will experience depression. Furthermore, depression affects roughly 14.8 million American adults in any given year, which amounts to 6.7% of the American population.
What Symptoms Are Associated with Depression?
For depression to be diagnosed by a clinician, symptoms must be present for two weeks or more. Behavioural symptoms include: loss of pleasure, lack of interest in hobbies, remaining at home, not completing important school/work tasks, withdrawing from family and friends, inability to concentrate for extended periods of time, and using alcohol and/or drugs to help ease symptoms. Emotional symptoms include: feeling overwhelmed, irritable, unhappy, disappointed, sad, and frustrated. Physical symptoms include: constantly feeling tired/run down, constant headaches and muscle pains, stomach issues, insomnia/hypersomnia, and changes in appetite/weight.
For those experiencing depression, negative automatic thoughts cloud their thoughts daily. These thoughts can include ‘I’m a failure,’ ‘Nothing good every happens to me,’ ‘Life is not worth living,’ or, ‘I’m worthless.’ When these thoughts occur frequently and intensely, many people suffering from depression feel as though their only choice is to end their lives. In fact, in Australia alone, over 90% of completed suicides within the past year have been done by people who had been suffering from clinical depression. This alone highlights the hopelessness that is felt by people with depression.
However, the above depression symptoms might seem ‘too clinical,’ and may not really fit in with how an individual is actually feeling. Furthermore, some of the symptoms appear to be quite general, and if an individual is experiencing depression, specific symptoms are often easier to understand and relate to. These could include:
• Things seeming ‘off’
• Not feeling hopeful or happy at anything, even big milestones
• Crying for no apparent reason/for an insignificant reason
• Feeling as though you are moving in slow motion
• Finding it difficult to maintain a ‘normal’ conversation
• Having difficulty making simple decisions
• Feeling ‘out of love’ with a spouse or partner
• Becoming forgetful
• You have recurring thoughts of death or suicidal ideations
• You feel as though you are suffocating.
• Your senses seem dulled
• Feelings of anxiety
How Would a Person Know If They Are Depressed?
Often, there is a ‘trigger’ for the symptomatology. A trigger could be the death of a loved one, losing a job, or a drastic change in life circumstances (i.e., moving overseas away from family). There is also research which suggests that people can have a genetic predisposition to depression. That is, depression in a first degree relative increases the likelihood of a family member being diagnosed with depression. However, depression can also occur without the presence of a specific trigger. Furthermore, depression typically begins slowly, and builds in intensity.
Examples of What Depression Feels Like from Those Who Have Actually Been There.
Recently, the Huffington Post published a series of anonymous posts where people who have experienced depression, described exactly what it felt like for them as individuals. This post provided great insight into the individuality of depression, as well as the intensity of the symptoms. These quotes encapsulate depression beautifully in a raw and honest manner:
“Depression is a dark, inescapable place. It’s like being locked in a room with no light, windows or door. It’s so dark you can’t even see your hands in front of your face let alone find a way out.”
“Slipping into depression feels like falling down a dark bottomless shaft, wondering if and when your fall will ever be caught. And as you look back to where you fell from—which is where you know you need to get back to—you can see it receding further into the distance, the proverbial light becoming dimmer and dimmer, while the shaft into which you are falling becomes deeper, darker, and all the more enveloping.”
“Being depressed sometimes feels like tunnel vision—regardless of anything going on in your life, you can feel miserable and overwhelmed for no reason at all.”