How Do I Know if I am Depressed?

Living with depression

By: David Lechnyr, LCSW

One of the most common disorders in the world is depression. It is the “common cold” of emotional disorders and no one is exempt from it. We can deny and run depression, but at a cost. Whenever we try to deny feelings, hold things in, it will come out in some manner, whether through physical or emotional symptoms. Through counseling and therapy, we can “grow from these feelings” if we take the time to “look and examine” what this means for our life’s “journey.”

Identifying Depression

Most of us hate to admit it, but we all go through periods of adjustment that can cause us to feel sad, blue, down, and unhappy. We tend to forget that depressive feelings are important markers that something is changing in our lives. Because of this, it’s important to know what some of the more common signs of depression look like. Just having one of these doesn’t mean that you are suffering from depression, however it can be an indicator when combined with other symptoms.

  • People start asking us “what’s wrong”, which may or may not surprise us
  • We don’t have as much energy as we used to
  • Doing things can be extremely exhausting and can take significant effort on our part
  • We may not have any interest in doing anything, or when we do, it’s not as enjoyable as it used to be
  • We feel fatigued, tired and exhausted
  • We feel hopeless, sad, or “down”
  • We feel overwhelmed, angry, irritable, or easily upset
  • Feeling guilt and excessive self-blame
  • Having an increase in physical problems, and being sick more frequently
  • Being more prone to injuries
  • Having headaches, or increasing headache problems
  • Grinding one’s teeth, clinching one’s jaw
  • Losing one’s sexual desire/interest.
  • Difficulty in erections/orgasms
  • An increase use of pain medications (which increases depression)
  • An increase in the use of alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs
  • Sleeping too much or having problems sleeping, and/or waking frequently
  • An increase in marital arguments
  • Problems on the job with supervisors, co-workers, missing work, etc.
  • A lack of enjoyment in daily life
  • Feeling “blah” and no excitement in life
  • Feeling a general “low level” amount of anxiety and tension
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, indecisiveness, unclear thinking
  • We start eating less or more, and gaining or losing weight
  • Addictive Behaviors and Acting Out: Chemicals, alcohol use, affairs, spending money
  • Buying things in hopes it will make you feel better, and then losing interest in it, while moving on to buying even more things (This is self-medicating moods with things and activities)

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 depressive bipolar disorder 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.

Different Kinds of Depression

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. When one feels they are just “a little tired,” or are “feeling their age,” a mild depression may be evident, although this is hard to identify. One does not have to feel a “severe/extreme” level of depression to be concerned that “something is out of balance in one’s life.” Research has noted that even mild levels of depression can cause significant, long-term, problems if not taken care of properly.

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 what we commonly think of when we talk about bipolar (manic/depressive), 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.

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 get past. Depression might affect your sleep, energy, appetite or even your concentration. Sometimes, we feel as if we’ve let ourselves, or other people, down.

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.

The Next Step

Sometimes, things resolve on their own with the passage of time. Where we get into trouble is when we avoid dealing with how our life is being affected by an increasing depression that refuses to go away. Research has shown that counseling and therapy can be just as effective as antidepressants and, in fact, can often provide significant gains that benefit you during the course of your life. We may not know what to expect from a counselor or “talk therapy”, however we do know that dealing with it on our own is often not a reliable solution.

Photo credit: Pixabay/Alexas_Fotos