It is completely normal to feel sad, angry, hopeless, and apathetic at certain points during our lives. We should expect to experience these emotions just as we would expect to experience feelings of joy, contentment, and excitement. However, a depressive episode, or a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, is more than feelings of sadness during an expected or brief moment in time.
Depression (Major Depressive Disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. There are many symptoms and behaviors that classify what a depressive episode may look like. You may experience any to all of the following during a depressive episode:
- Feelings of sadness or apathy
- A loss of interest or pleasure from activities that you once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite
- Trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (hand wringing, pacing, etc) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
The severity of these symptoms can range from mild to severe. If symptoms are more mild, you may experience fewer of those symptoms and less frequently. If your symptoms are more severe, you may experience almost all of the symptoms on the list and have them more frequently. In order to qualify for a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, you must experience at least five of the listed symptoms for at least two weeks. With a professional, you can determine the severity of the episode. Someone can experience one episode of depression, or multiple episodes throughout their lifetime. Episodes may have a trigger that is consistent with stressful or traumatic life events, or physiological or hormonal changes. However, episodes may not have seemingly any triggers, whatsoever. These episodes can last from a few days to a few months. While this sounds overwhelming and scary, it is important to remember that depression is treatable.
What depression feels like, has been described as a dark cloud that is constantly hanging over you. It has been described as a weight on your chest, shoulders, or body. It has been described as a mood shift for no apparent reason – everything may be going genuinely well in your life, and these symptoms still emerge. You may feel more tired than usual or move more slowly throughout your life than usual. Depression also leads to many negative thinking patterns. Thoughts of yourself, the world around you, and your future may become dark, irrational, or just plain scary. These thoughts can also lead to further isolation from the others, and potentially suicidal thinking. What depression feels like may vary from person to person, but what is constant is how debilitating it is. That is what differentiates clinical depression from a bad mood. What is also important to remember, is that depression is not a weakness or a character trait. It is a serious and common mental illness. The nature of depression is, unfortunately, that it has you believe that it is a personal fault for experiencing depressive emotions and thoughts.
While these symptoms may seem obvious, we may assume that we will be able to spot these behaviors easily in others. This may not always be the case. People can experience many of these symptoms and likely have become very skilled in masking their true emotions. Those who are experiencing a depressive episode may be working and communicating well with others; any changes in their mood or behavior may seem subtle or dismissable to others. Regardless, if we do notice our friends and family exhibiting any of these symptoms, it is encouraged to ask them how they are doing. It is never hurtful to ask someone how they are doing; ignoring potential signs of depression can be detrimental to mental and physical health, and yours.
This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer.
American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.-d). What is Depression? Retrieved April 7, 2020, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression
Harvard Health Publishing. (2018, December 18). Major Depression. Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/major-depression-a-to-z
Truschel, J. (n.d.). Depression Definition and DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria. Retrieved April 7, 2020, from https://www.psycom.net/depression-definition-dsm-5-diagnostic-criteria/#dsm-5diagnosticcriteria