The Unglamorous Truth About Depression

By: Erin Parquette (@EriParquette)

Depression is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and weight change
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without an apparent physical cause and that do not ease even with treatment

Although, not everyone who has depression will experience all of these symptoms. Some people experience few, and some experience many. Several persistent symptoms in addition to low mood are required for a diagnosis of major depression, but people with only a few but distressing symptoms may benefit from treatment of their depression. The severity of symptoms and how long they last will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness. Symptoms may also vary depending on the stage of the disease.

More specific and unique types of depression are:

Persistent Depressive Disorder, this is a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. Someone diagnosed with this type of depression may experience episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms. 

Perinatal depression, in which many women experience after giving birth. Women diagnosed with this may experience full-blown major depression during pregnancy or after the baby's birth (postpartum depression). The feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that accompany perinatal depression may make it difficult for these new mothers to complete daily care activities for themselves and for their babies.

Psychotic depression occurs when someone has severe depression plus some psychosis. Such as having disturbing false fixed beliefs (delusions) or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations). The psychotic symptoms typically have a depressive “theme,” such as delusions of guilt, poverty, or illness.

Seasonal affective disorder is characterized by being in a depressive state during winter months when there is less natural sunlight. Winter depression, typically accompanied by social withdrawal, increased sleep, and weight gain, predictably returns every year in seasonal affective disorder.

If you are suffering from depression, just know that it can affect any person at any age, and even the most severe cases can be treated. It is commonly treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both. If these treatments do not reduce symptoms, electroconvulsive therapy, and other brain stimulation therapies may be options to explore. No two people will ever suffer the same way, and it is a trial and error process to figure out what treatment is best for you. 

Here are other tips that may help you or someone else during treatment for depression:

  • Try to be active and exercise.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself.
  • Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative.
  • Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.
  • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately.
  • Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced, or changing jobs until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
  • Continue to educate yourself about depression.

Although it may be difficult to recognize that you have depression, don't hide away from it. Suppressing your feelings will never help you be truly happy. It is hard to ask for help, but once you do, you will not regret it. If you think you or someone you know is dealing with depression, I urge you to reach out and get help. Things like these take time, but knowing that you need help is the only way to start.

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