According to a 2020 study done by researchers at Boston University’s School of Public Health, the prevalence of depressive symptoms has tripled during the pandemic, jumping from 8.5% of all American adults to 27.8%.
These kinds of numbers are nothing to scoff at, and may leave many wondering what is the first step that should be taken.
Depression, like many illnesses (both mental and physical), is something that should be identified as early as possible; a year of depression is going to have a substantially more damaging effect than the first week of feeling depressed.
For this very reason, it’s important to be aware of the common signs of depression and identify its onset. Here’s what you should look out for:
1. Apathy starts feeling too familiar.
An important aspect of mental well-being is finding enjoyment in things. Exactly what brings us joy or excites us could really be anything – watching a TV show, eating a delicious meal, going out with friends, and even sex life.
Depression dampens this sense of enjoyment to a point where we may feel unmotivated to do anything in particular, and everything starts feeling bland and gray. If you notice that most or all of your hobbies and interests no longer have that spark they used to have, consider it a call for action.
2. Negative thoughts eclipse positive ones.
It is often said that people suffering from depression are pessimistic, and there is truth to that notion. If every dark cloud has a silver lining, depression makes that lining more difficult to see. Our brain gives more weight to negativity, and the dark cloud seems to be the only thing in sight.
In addition to that, people suffering from depression have a tendency to feel as if their perception of the world is more accurate - that seeing a silver lining is somehow misguided. If you find yourself feeling this way, keep in mind that looking at things through the lens of depression does not provide the most accurate of pictures.
3. Avoiding other people in general.
As if a part of some cruel cycle, depression pushes us away from other people and isolates us, thus preventing us from getting the emotional support we need. It makes us lonelier, which further fuels our depressive feelings.
The reason for this self-imposed isolation can vary. It can be because we feel guilty for ‘spreading’ our negative thoughts and feelings. It can because the presence of others takes a lot of energy out of us, and socializing becomes exhausting. Whichever the case, it is important to remember that the support of others is something every therapist would prescribe.
4. Being tired all day, every day.
Not having the capacity to interact with friends, family and pretty much anyone else is not the only way in which tiredness affects us when depressed. It may feel like every small, basic action requires significant effort, and as such, there is just never enough energy to do anything.
This is not helped by sleep difficulties often experienced alongside depression, such as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up, and not feeling rested in the morning like we usually would.
5. Fluctuation in hunger and weight.
Going hand in hand with changes to our sleep pattern are changes to our eating habits. For some, this means an increased appetite, and consequently an increase in weight. For others, this means an unwillingness or inability to eat as much as they usually do, followed by a decrease in weight. Together with sleep difficulties, this type of physical change can disrupt the daily functioning of our brain.
6. Feeling irritable, restless, and frustrated.
Depression is often thought of as an extreme form of sadness. However, despite sadness playing a part in many cases of depression, it is not the only feeling we experience when depressed. It can be strangely easy to make us angry, as if we are a barrel of gunpowder and it only takes someone lighting a match at the wrong moment to tick us off.
Changes in sleeping and eating habits can contribute to this effect. It is also noteworthy that anger as an expression of depressed mood is more common than sadness in children.
7. A general sense of hopelessness.
When we feel unable to enjoy things, have negative thoughts in our head, feel lonely or isolated from others, and feel tired and restless - hope that things will get better becomes an increasingly scarce resource.
Hopelessness, perhaps more than any other feeling, is the glue that holds the other symptoms together and keeps them around for the long term. When people tell us that things will indeed get better, it may feel like a lie. Not a malicious one, just that from our point of view - how can such a thing be true?
As you read through these 7 signs, a red warning sign may flashed in your imagination. Maybe this is how you have been feeling, or maybe someone close to you is characterized by these signs all too well.
This feeling of confirmation, that ‘this is real and is happening’ can in and of itself feel overwhelming, so let’s take a deep breath, shall we?
Let’s remember that the growing rates of depression across the country are not random - they are the direct result of most of us having had a year ranging from ‘not great’ to ‘exceptionally terrible’. It has been a year full of unexpected challenges, continuous struggles and isolation for many, and for some - even worse than that.
What this means is that depression is unfortunately common, especially these days. It may not even be too far-fetched to call it the psychological equivalent to the flu. And like the flu, it has causes, it has symptoms, and it has ways to treat it.
Before we dive into treatment, let’s take a moment to understand why depression even happens; how can this dark cloud take over our life without us noticing? There is no one answer that would nicely fit for everyone. Instead, depression can come about for a variety of different reasons.
Those include genetic, hormonal, and medical factors, but by and large, the most common reason is significant, overwhelming life changes: this could be a traumatic event, the passing of a loved one, moving to a completely different place, living through a worldwide pandemic, and any other life event that brings us a great deal of stress.
When we become overwhelmed by such things, it greatly affects the daily functioning of our brain. It affects the levels of mood-related neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, it affects the way we experience the world and process emotions, and it affects our cognitive abilities, such as memory and reasoning.
Okay. So what should we do?
In all honesty, the simple answer is to reach out to professional help. If you don’t feel ashamed when going to the doctor when you have a bad cough or a sore throat, there is nothing to be ashamed of when seeking professional help if your mood is, in a manner of speaking, sore.
Professional help can imply 2 things. The first is medication, such as antidepressants, which is an option that may be necessary in some cases, but not all. The second is talking to a therapist - someone who can help us identify the sources of our depression, and guides us towards the path of overcoming them.
Many people feel intimidated by the idea of seeing a therapist, and exactly how therapy helps us may seem like some sort of magic from the outside. The truth is that much like how friendships and romantic relationships develop, so does the therapeutic relationship. Having emotional support, a listening ear, and continuous constructive feedback from someone who knows what they are talking about is an often undervalued boon.
Overcoming depression and getting to a point where we feel healed can take time, much like how it takes time for the body to recover from an injury. Each therapy session is a step towards that recovery, and each step matters.
However, a once-a-week session may not always be enough, especially if it is far away. For that reason, we at DoMental have gathered a network of professional therapists that you can talk with every day, throughout the day. We know that time is of the essence, so we do our best so that our therapists can reply within 2 hours.
We are here to help.
Take our quiz so that we can learn more about your symptoms and match you with a suitable therapist, and you can start talking with one straight away!