Am I Depressed?

By: David Lechnyr, LCSW

Surprisingly, there are many different types of depression. At the far end of the scale is major depression. This type of depression affects people mostly every day and is difficult to recover from without help. It can color our moods, thoughts and perceptions while affecting our life in a significant way.

Another type is called minor depression (dysthymia), which tends to affect us about half of the time, rather than almost all of the time. This type of minor depression is also called persistent depressive disorder. It’s not uncommon for people suffering from minor depression to develop major depression at some point in their lives without proper treatment.

Regardless of the type of depression we have, when you try to force yourself to feel better, it’s as if you’ve hit a wall that you can’t overcome. Depression might affect your sleep, energy, appetite or even your concentration. Sometimes, we feel as if we’ve let ourselves, or other people, down.

What are the Signs of Depression?

Some of the more common signs of depression can include, but are not limited to:

  • Feeling fatigued, tired and exhausted.
  • Feeling hopeless or overwhelmed, angry, irritable and easily upset.
  • Losing desire, and interest, to do much.
  • Feeling guilt and excessive self-blame.
  • Losing one’s sexual desire/interest.
  • Sleeping too much or having problems sleeping, and/or waking frequently.
  • Weight gains or a loss in weight.
  • A lack of enjoyment in daily life.
  • Feeling blah and no excitement in life.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, indecisiveness and/or unclear thinking.

Who is at Risk for Depression?

Although depression can be triggered by personal problems, other factors also affect who becomes depressed. Often, a combination of risk factors are involved. Some types of depression are genetic and run in families. Women tend to experience depression more often than men. Changing hormone levels, as in the postpartum period, may also contribute to depression. Illness such as stroke, heart attack, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, hormonal disorders and untreated chronic pain can be involved. Stress and traumatic experiences, such as the loss of a loved one, can also trigger depression. Even a type of Bipolar Depression can be involved at times.

Depression can happen to anyone at some point in life. Many depressions are situational, or reactions to important changes in our lives and can be helped, without medications, through proper therapy. Some depressions can be biological or inherited as well. Some depressions happen with injuries and physical problems because of changes in the body; while this is normal and to be expected, often we still need to seek out help and support. Unresolved childhood traumas and conflicts can cause long-term unhappiness and problems in our daily life.

Depression can also happen even though you may not feel that anything is happening in your life to cause it. Depression can also be life threatening if one tries to hide and run rather than getting help. Even strong people can have problems with depression at times. Some people won’t even talk about their depression and deny that they are having problems, trying not to feel and avoiding doing anything at all about their depression. The difference between these two types of people is in admitting that there is a problem and being willing to seek out professional counseling and therapy to help.

Bipolar Depression

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we find ourselves dealing with treatment-resistant or an often misdiagnosed type of bipolar depression (also poorly labeled, for better or for worse, as Bipolar II, or the more recently branded depressive bipolar disorder). These types of depression generally don’t respond well to standard medications or general types of talk therapy and, unless treated by someone familiar with the disorder, things can actually get worse. In the case of Bipolar II, one’s mood can alternate between depression and non-depression (or, in some cases, anger or irritability).

This is different from Bipolar I, where feelings of depression alternate with feelings of extreme happiness and energy across periods of days, weeks or even months. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have a better name to help distinguish between these types of mental health issues. It can be helpful to compare both types of bipolar along with non-bipolar moods to see how they really affect us differently.

Positive vs. Negative Outlook

When we view life in a pessimistic frame of mind, generally we end up no worse off than those who are optimistic. When you add negative self thoughts, poor self-esteem or depression to the mix, a negative frame of mind actually ends up multiplying these effects. Once we get in a pessimistic mindset, we end up getting stuck and find ourself unable to view our successes as anything but small. Comparing everything else that is negative in our life ends up pulling us further down, even if the positives outweigh the negatives. Our view of the world is more important, and more subtle, than we realize. We have to work harder to see the positives in order to avoid rebounding into the negatives.

Being “Just Fine”

The problem of depression is when we get stuck in feeling just fine. We’re dealing with things as best as we can. We feel stuck but see no way out. So we end up being just fine with the unspoken reality that things are anything but fine. And we end up using this as an excuse to not deal with our issues, to stay stuck and to not go forward. It’s subtle, but a real and valid danger. We end up actually making things worse, and end up screwing ourselves over.