Everyone experiences times in their life when they are unhappy or feeling low. The feeling may last for a short period of time then you move on. Depression is more than just a temporary feeling of lows. It’s a mood disorder with a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It can affect much more than simply how you feel and it isn’t something you can easily just snap out of.
What does Depression Feel Like? Signs and Symptoms
“What is depression like? It’s like drowning, except everyone around you is breathing.– Anonymous.
You may find yourself feeling disconnected with those around you or experiencing a feeling of sadness you can’t seem to shake. Maybe it isn’t you experiencing these signs but you have noticed in someone you know really well or a loved one who has been acting differently. Identifying depression can be the first step in getting better or to help someone who is experiencing it. Common signs and symptoms might include:
- Overwhelming sense of sadness, including crying spells for no apparent reason
- Irritability or easily annoyed
- Worry or fear
- Loss of interest in family and friends
- Social isolation
- Changes in appetite and/or weight (being underweight/overweight)
- Easily angered or frustration over small things
- Having trouble focusing or concentrating
- Physical aches and pains
- Loss of energy or motivation
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Lack of attention to personal hygiene
- Substance abuse
- Self-harm or excessive tattooing/piercing
In some older adults they may also experience difficulty remembering or changes in personality and loss of interest in socializing or doing new things. It may not always be easy to recognize depression in others because they may hide it well. Subtle changes in behavior or even weight and appearance might provide clues.
Take it from someone who has been there, depression isn’t fun and it’s not a place you want to stay in. It takes away so much from your life that you may not even realize. For someone with depression it’s almost as if you’re cut-off from the rest of the world so to speak. Everything else continues to move forward but you’re not completely there and it can begin to consume you. Things you once enjoyed just have no interest to you anymore and important events or activities with family or friends are not the same.
It isn’t the same for everyone but for someone unsure about what depression feels like think of it in terms of an illness that impairs your daily functions. It can affect the way you think, behave, and it can lead to more serious problems physically. You might find it hard to focus or stay on task. It can even take on the form of physical pain and impairment. When left untreated it can often lead to unhealthy habits that may be really difficult to break later and cause further health problems in the future. Understanding what you’re feeling and being proactive in receiving help is so important.
If you get sick with a bad virus you would normally go to the doctor to seek treatment so you can start feeling better and back to your daily routine. It’s no fun missing out on activities you want to do because you’re sick in bed with the flu, right? When we get injured we seek medical attention so our injury can heal properly and resume our daily activities. Your mental health and emotional well-being shouldn’t be any different.
Speaking from experience, depression isn’t something I bring up lightly. I know the damaging effects that come from it when you hold things in and don’t seek help. I also know how difficult it is to seek help. Social media and modern technology have also made it much more difficult about being open. We see everyday how quick people are to judge others. At the same time it does present the opportunity to spread awareness. Accepting others through their trials can go a long way for someone who is afraid of being open and being proactive in their mental health.
Seeking help from a doctor or therapist can help you find the right treatment plan to resume your daily life and on the road to feeling better. I know that isn’t always easy to initiate but it is often necessary and I promise you there is no shame in admitting when we need to seek help for our mental health. Depressive disorders are often met with a sense of guilt that we don’t want to burden others with. A skilled professional in mental health such as a therapist is trained to help with these feelings and it is their job to help others so speaking to one is the first step.
Learn more about what depression truly feels like :
- Insightful quotes describing depression and more (Very Well Mind)
- What does depression feel like : Trust me you don’t really want to know (The Guardian)
- How do I know I’m feeling depressed? (Medical News Today)
Some Common Symptoms of Depression
►Learn More : (Mayo Clinic) : Symptoms of Depression
Causes of Depression
Depression can affect people in many different ways and there are a number of different factors that can contribute to the disorder. Brain chemistry has often been linked to depression as a result of changes in function and effect of neurotransmitters and the role they play in maintaining mood stability. Truthfully, it is much more complex than that as research has found that there are different brain chemicals involved as well as the communication between nerve cells.
Hormones could be another contributing factor as well. Your body’s hormone production changes during various stages of life. Sometimes a disruption can lead to an imbalance such as during or post pregnancy, menopause, thyroid conditions, and many other health conditions. It can even come from inherited traits if you have closely-related family members that also experience depression. There is more research needed to find a correlation between depression and genes that may be responsible for causing it.
Sometimes trauma or other external factors can result in depression. Stressful situations, financial problems, victims of abuse, sexual assault, or difficult relationships, or the death of a loved one could all potentially lead to depression. Regardless of what may have caused it, the thing to remember is that these factors are often beyond our control and you are not alone.
Healthy vs Depressed Synapse (Read study)
The Effect of COVID-19 on Depression
The pandemic with Coronavirus has certainly heightened the prevalence of depression among people of various ages and stages in life. Social distancing, quarantine orders, and isolation has put a strain on socializing with friends and loved ones, not to mention the significant number of losses as a result of COVID-19. The financial hardships placed on so many families as a result has also created a threshold for feelings of hopelessness. Psychiatrists have reported elevated numbers in patients they have seen with anxiety and depression as a direct result of the pandemic. The National Helpline also reported a 27% increase in calls in 2020 from the previous year with 833,598 calls made from individuals seeking help.
Lifestyle changes as a result of the pandemic have also heightened the risks for depression. Limits and restrictions on public places have more people staying in and ordering food that may be contributing to poor eating habits. In conjunction with increased sedentary behavior due to social distancing and quarantine orders further add to the dysfunction.
It is not surprising given the circumstances created as a result of this global pandemic, but there are even further links between COVID-19 and depressive disorders. In patients that have had the virus, there is an increased risk of depression as it has been linked to inflammation. Your body’s immune system plays a role in the development, treatment, and prevention of depression. Prolonged inflammation in the body can negatively impact the health of your brain affecting various functions. Individuals who were hospitalized with COVID-19 had higher rates of depression which correlated with increased inflammation. Even long after the individual has recovered from the virus they’re more susceptible to developing depressive disorders. (Learn more)
Depression in Teens
I feel this topic needs its own section. There are many various stages of life where people can experience depression, particularly during or post childbirth and older adults. Teens, however, deserve their own recognition. I say this because I was a teenager and being depressed at this age is so often overlooked. Not only did I experience it firsthand but I also saw how prevalent depression was in some teens that went misunderstood. At the time I was dealing with my own internal struggles I had a friend that was going through her own battles I was completely unaware of.
This is a challenging stage as you’re dealing with emotional and physical changes. At this age peer pressure, expectations from your parents, teachers and friends and acceptance are all a big deal. It can be difficult to tell the difference in what is characterized as normal behavior and signs that someone is not ok.
Experiencing depression first hand I can tell you as much as I tried to hide the way I was feeling and going through inside, there were signs that suggested something was wrong. I became very anti-social which wasn’t like me at all. I was very easy-going and while I did experience bullying at various times during middle school I never let it bother me to the point that it affected my emotional state. I was in color guard as a freshman and enjoyed after-school functions with my friends.
What does depression feel like when you are basically still a child trying to navigate life thinking you are old enough to know everything? I can’t speak for every teenager that has lived with depression but regardless of the cause there are similar feelings. I could not find happiness in my life with the things I loved before yet felt I couldn’t express or confide in anyone what I was going through. While I was in a constant state of mind that I didn’t want to be there I did my hardest to put on a happy face around others. I didn’t want anyone to see me differently but I also struggled everyday getting through my regular routine. I kept my grades up but I dreaded going to school each day. Even getting dressed and ready in the mornings became a struggle. Realistically I was scared and felt completely alone inside and always afraid that others would notice. I wish I had sought help sooner because I let it consume me until I reached a point in my life that I didn’t want to live anymore. There are even time periods that I can’t remember during school. When I look back at the few photos I have from that period in my life I barely recognize the person I had become. Thankfully this was before the age of smartphones where everything is photo-worthy.
When I suddenly broke off the relationship I was in and quit the colorguard and reached a state that I didn’t want to leave my house, these were signs that something was wrong. I believe at the time most of my friends and my parents regarded my behavior as a result of a bad breakup. We’ve been there, right? It’s not uncommon to have a depressive mood after a relationship ends, but this was much different. I think teens face many challenges, especially today, that they hide because they fear what others will think. I think these various challenges also prevent them from seeing it in others as well. As a mother now, I want to share how important it is to recognize red flags or signs of teen depression.
While there are many similar symptoms of depressive disorder some symptoms may vary in teens from adults. Sudden changes in behavior and attitude are often regarded as normal for this age period as hormones can contribute to sudden mood swings. When accompanied by other potential symptoms it could signal something more is going on in your teenager’s mental health:
- Loss of interest in the usual activities
- Frequent absences at school
- Negative changes in academic/school performance
- Easily agitated over small things
- Sudden angry outbursts
- Overly sensitive to rejection or failure, constant need of reassurance
- Complaining of unexplained physical aches and pains, headaches
- Loss of energy
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of guilt, self-blame or self-criticism
- Thoughts of death or dying
- Sleeping too much or insomnia
What Can You Do to Combat Depression?
We cannot always control those things around us that can affect our mental state, but there are effective ways to work through them. While I strongly recommend seeking help from a medical professional there are additional ways to treat and overcome depression. One place to start is by reducing potential triggers that might lead to those negative feelings. Activities and different methods that reduce stress and help you relax are particularly beneficial to your overall mental health.
Exercise for Depression
There are many healthy benefits to gain from exercising but staying active and taking care of your physical health is also a great way to take care of your mental health.
When we exercise our bodies endorphins are naturally released resulting in positive chemical changes in the brain that make us feel happy. You don’t have to join a gym, buy expensive equipment or take classes either. Taking just 15 minutes out of your day to go on a jog can significantly improve your mental state. In fact, studies have shown where incorporating physical activity in your daily routine can be just as effective in treating mild to moderate depression as prescription anti-depressants.
Meditative poses and stretches such as yoga can also prove beneficial and even therapeutic.
VIDEO | Exercise Benefits vs Prescription Drugs
Healthy Diet and Supplements
Changes in your appetite may make it difficult to stick to healthy eating habits but incorporating a healthy meal can help to avoid unhealthy habits. Don’t skip on breakfast and begin your day with a healthy start. Taking daily supplements such as a multivitamin can help keep you in check to meet your dietary needs in nutrients. An insufficiency in vital nutrients could potentially affect your mood particularly Folate or Folic Acid. Talk to your doctor first before taking any supplements, especially if you are taking other medications. A simple blood test can show deficiencies in specific nutrients your body needs.
Support Groups for Depression
A support group can be really helpful in talking with other people that share similar feelings or have some form of understanding with what you’re experiencing. While I try to refrain from groups on social media platforms as I’ve found all too often it can turn negative quickly, there are a few well-moderated groups where people can connect on mutual feelings for support. A local support group can provide a safe haven where people can talk and encourage each other through understanding and empathy. Online support groups are essentially beneficial amid safety concerns due to the pandemic. These also offer an opportunity for those with major depressive disorders where leaving the house is difficult to still receive support.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers local groups where people can meet face-to-face to receive support, encouragement and helpful information in a safe environment. They have a full directory of local groups you can search for by state as well as locations outside of the U.S. They offer online support as well for those who do not have a local chapter near them.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America also offers support groups to individuals facing mental health challenges. They offer local support to help individuals find communities nearby for depression management as well as online communities. In addition to these support group services the ADAA offers various resources to help individuals meet their mental health needs through webinars, podcasts, informational brochures, videos, and books.
SAMHSA’s National Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) – this is a toll-free number that anyone can call anytime of day for help with mental or substance abuse issues. Write this number down to put on your fridge or save it in your phone. It’s a confidential treatment referral service that provides individuals information on resources to seek help including local communities, treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
Talk to a friend or family member or someone you can confide in such as a minister, spiritual leader, or person in your community. It may be difficult to reach out to someone you know but holding your feelings and emotions inside will only linger on the longer you let it. Those feelings of sadness and hopelessness will not go away on their own so be open to talk to someone.
Positive Affirmations – Depression often leaves individuals with a sense of hopelessness and negative outlook on life and the future. Set yourself with positive thoughts and affirmations daily to help fight off negative thoughts and emotions. There are apps you can download that send you daily affirmations or podcasts to stream on your daily commute to help you ‘rewire your brain’ with positive thinking.
Take On Selfless Acts – Depression can often leave you feeling hopeless and worthless with low self-esteem. Taking on projects or activities to help others can help combat these feelings and restore your sense of self-worth. Being able to witness and see others’ struggles can also help you find hope in what you have and provide the opportunity for you to be someone of hope to someone else. Find community-based organizations in your area where you can volunteer or get involved with community projects.
If volunteering seems too much to handle simply take on daily responsibilities. Depression can make daily routines seem almost unbearable but small things like making your bed as soon as you get up can help give you a sense of accomplishment to get through the rest of your day.
These methods are beneficial to treating depressive episodes but should not take the place of a consultation with a medical professional or therapist. Because of the complexity of how depression affects individuals and the number of potential root causes, what works for one person may not for another. If you have been experiencing depressive episodes that are affecting your daily life a professional skilled in mental disorders can recommend treatment options that fit your needs. Self-treatment is not recommended or ideal if you have had any depressive episodes including the following:
- Self-harm (cutting or purposefully inflicting pain on yourself)
- Having thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- Seeking out ways to commit suicide or writing a plan or note
If you experience thoughts of self-harm or contemplating suicide seek help right away. These are immediate signs that need attention. You can call the National Hotline at any time day or night.
Ketamine Therapy for Depression
If you are currently or have tried different forms of treatment for depressive disorder without much success do not lose hope. Sometimes it takes a variety of treatments and therapies to find what works. There has been a relatively new treatment that is gaining a lot of attention for its effectiveness in treating depression when other traditional methods have failed. With commonly-prescribed antidepressants the results are not immediately effective and can take weeks for patients to see improvement in their mental health. Antidepressants also carry potential side-effects and some are not recommended in young teenagers.
Ketamine therapy is different from traditional antidepressants and is administered by IV in a tapering sequence, typically starting off with an infusion 3 times a week. It has been given as an ‘off-label’ therapy in clinical studies when traditional antidepressants have been unsuccessful and is now approved in the treatment of depression. Side effects reported were very mild and it has proven to be effective in short-term relief from depression symptoms within a few hours of treatment lasting up to several days or weeks. More research and clinical studies need to be conducted to see longer-lasting effects.
It’s important to be honest and upfront with your doctor or therapist on what you are comfortable with trying to help you manage your depression. There are a variety of reasons where individuals do not like the idea of taking medication for treatment. Therapists can offer alternative options that may help so be open about your concerns for your treatment plan.
How Can You Help Someone with Depression?
Sometimes others may recognize signs of depression in a friend or someone they love and uncertain how to approach the subject. They may think by doing something to make them happy can ‘fix’ it. This isn’t the case. It’s not a weekend getaway trip quick fix or something that can be alleviated with a gift. What so many people fail to realize is that it’s a disorder which requires treatment, preferably from a medical expert.
It can be really difficult for someone who is experiencing depression to open up to someone about what they are feeling. All too often I hear others say ‘I wish they could have talked to someone or told them what they were feeling’ when it’s too late. If you feel someone may be going through a depressed state try talking to them without judgement. It’s important for those individuals to feel they can trust or confide in someone to be open about what they’re experiencing. Show your support by offering to go with them to seek therapy, even if it’s just to bring them to their appointment so they know they aren’t alone. If you suspect they may attempt suicide or having thoughts of suicide seek out help right away.
For parents that may suspect depression in their teenager, talk to them. I know this can be challenging to get your child to open up about serious issues. Start by talking to them about things in general that may help determine if they need additional support in managing their feelings. Show interest in things they care about to pick up on sudden changes or loss of interest in those things. Encourage them to tell you how they’re feeling or help them prepare a list of questions to ask with a professional in an initial appointment. Support them by attending family therapy sessions and be open-minded to suggestions on changes that can be made to support your child’s mental health.