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Mild forms of depression can include brief periods of time where symptoms of depression, such as sadness or hopelessness are present. These feelings typically have minimal or slight effects on normal everyday activities. Moderate forms of depression typically have symptoms that are more intense and last for a longer period of time. Daily activities may become more difficult. However, the individual is still able to cope with them. A person experiencing severe depression may experience extreme fluctuations in mood or even a desire for complete withdrawal from daily routine and/or the outside world.
Symptoms of Depression
Signs that you may have depression include crying spells or, at the other extreme, lack of emotional responsiveness. Other symptoms to look for include:
Changes in Feelings and/or Perceptions
- Inability to find pleasure in things you previously found enjoyable.
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or worthlessness.
- Exaggerated sense of guilt or self-blame.
- Loss of sexual desire.
- Loss of emotional connection with family or friends.
- Increased thoughts of death and dying.
Changes in Behavior and Attitudes
- Lack of interest in prior activities and withdrawal from others.
- Neglect of responsibilities and appearance.
- Dissatisfaction with life in general.
- Impaired memory, inability to concentrate, indecisiveness, and confusion.
- Reduced ability to cope.
- Chronic fatigue and lack of energy.
- Complete loss of appetite, or, at the other extreme, compulsive eating.
- Insomnia, early morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping.
- Unexplained headaches, backaches, and similar complaints.
- Digestive problems including stomach pain, nausea, indigestion, and/or change in bowel habits.
Causes of Depression
Depression can be the result of many factors. Shortages, or chemical imbalances, in the brain may play a significant role in some cases of depression. Such imbalances may be created by illness, infections, certain drugs (including alcohol and even prescribed medications) as well as improper diet and nutrition. In addition, predisposition to depressive symptoms can be hereditary. Some research has indicated that depression can be passed down genetically from parents to children.
In addition, people can develop depression after experiencing a difficult event. Experiences such as adjusting to new situations, the death of a loved one, increased stress, trauma, and seasonal changes are a few of the experiences that can increase an individual’s symptoms of depression. Identifying and understanding the underlying causes of depression is a necessary step in learning to cope.
Being aware of changes in mood or the intensity of negative feelings as they occur will help you identify possible sources of depression or stress. You should examine your feelings and try to determine what is troubling you—relationships with family or friends, financial responsibilities, and so forth. Discussing problems with the people involved or with an understanding friend can sometimes bring about a resolution before a critical stage of stress is reached. Even mild depression should be dealt with if it interferes with your effectiveness. You might also try to:
- Change your normal routine by taking a break for a favorite activity or something new — even if you don’t feel like it.
- Exercise to work off tension, improve digestion, help you relax, and perhaps improve your ability to sleep.
- Avoid known stressors, when possible.
- Avoid making decisions that make you feel trapped or confined — it is better to put them off until you feel you are better able to cope.
- See a physician, especially if physical complaints persist.
Helping a Depressed Friend
Since severely depressed individuals can be very withdrawn, exhausted, and possibly suicidal, a concerned friend can provide a valuable and possibly life-saving service. Talking candidly with the individual regarding your concern for his or her well-being will often bring the problems out into the open.As you talk with your friend:
- Do not try to “cheer up” the individual.
- Do not criticize or shame, as feelings of depression cannot be helped.
- Do not sympathize and claim that you feel the same way as he or she does.
- Understand that depression is not something that they can easily “get over.”
- Try not to get angry with the depressed individual.
- Understand that each person’s experience of depression can be different; learn more about your friend’s experience with depression. If you’re not sure how to help, ask your friend how you can support them. They may just want someone to listen.If feelings of depression appear to turn to thoughts of suicide, urge the individual to seek professional help. If the person resists your suggestion and you feel that suicide is likely—seek professional help yourself, so you will know how to best handle the situation.
When Professional Help is Necessary
Depression is treatable. Symptoms of depression can be alleviated with professional help in the form of psychiatry, mental health counseling, or consulting with a physician. A mental health professional can be consulted and assist with the symptoms or experiences referenced in this brochure. Professional help should be seriously considered when an individual experiences any of the following circumstances:
- When pain or problems outweigh pleasures much of the time.
- When symptoms are so severe and persistent that day-to-day functioning is impaired.
- When stress seems so overwhelming that suicide seems to be a viable option.Qualified mental health professionals can help identify the causes and sources of depression and can help the individual find ways to overcome them.
Want to Know More?
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: adaa.org
National Alliance of Mental Illness: nami.org
Everyday Health: everydayhealth.com
Psychology Today: psychologytoday.com/us
What is depression? By Helen M. Farrellyoutube.com/watch?v=z-IR48Mb3W0
Get help ASAP
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They also offer a chat option through their website, suicidepreventionhotline.org/chat/.