There comes a point in most people’s lives where they feel down, blue, or in a funk. During these times, depending on the individual, thoughts can range from unhealthy to downright hostile. Your brain, often your friend and ally, turns on you and all of a sudden, deep or alone with your thoughts, you are your own worst enemy.
If so, then you are not alone. Feeling depressed is one of the most common forms of mental illness. In fact, depression as a mental health disorder has jokingly been called the common cold of psychiatric disorders. That being said, depression can be a severe illness, and if you are suffering from depression, rest assured that you are not alone. Furthermore, while it may feel like it at the time, the good news is that typically people don’t feel depressed forever.
Held Hostage by Depression
The World Health Order (WHO) reports that over 300 million people worldwide deal with depression. It outranks all other physical and mental illnesses as the number one cause for disability, and yet, it is one of the most under-treated diseases. Perhaps this is because there is a general lack of social understanding of exactly what depression is.
More Than Just Sadness
The most striking symptom of depression is a depressed mood. While it is reasonable to feel sad now and then. Problems happen as a part of life, and everyone experiences loss and disappointment at some point. Life events of all varieties can trigger temporary mood deflations, but then life will mellow and balance out, and a person’s mood typically will bounce back or change.
Depression is more than the temporary responses that are felt from the typical challenges of life. Rather, it is classified as a feeling of emptiness or sadnesses that results in disinterest in activities that typically bring enjoyment. It is classified as a mental health illness that causes blockages with how people deal with their daily life.
Degrees of Depression
When a person is depressed, there is often this overwhelming sense that they will remain that way forever. While technically, all that is required for diagnosis according to western standards for clinical care are symptoms at least once a day, up to or more than five times in a two week period, the disorder can vary widely between individuals.
When people talk about “depression,” typically they are referring to major depressive disorder. This is a more long term form the psychiatric condition and is the most prevalent. However, there are many forms of this depression, which include:
Major Depressive Episode (Major Depression)
Considered traditional depression, or the most common form of the disorder. Major episodes can be triggered by typical life challenges, including the loss of a loved one, divorce or major life changes. In this type, a person will feel deep loss, melancholy or despair. Often it forces people to withdraw from friends or family, frequent crying, disturbed sleep, and other interferences with daily life.
Persistent Depressive Disorder
Sometimes this type is referred to as dysthymia and is considered a pervasive and ongoing or repetitive form of feeling depressed. Feelings can be milder than a major disorder, leaving a person feeling distant, bland or mediocre. Food may not taste as good, and the person may simply feel uninspired or apathetic. The symptoms may be milder, but the length of suffering will be longer.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Usually, this type is experienced during the winter or the months where there is less sun and is linked to the seasons. People who experience SAD will typically get recurrent symptoms year after year, about the same time each year without treatment.
A chemically based disorder that was once called manic depression, bipolar disorder is noted to cause intense highs and lows in a person’s mood. Depending on the type of bipolar (Bipolar I, II or III) an individual will feel varying degrees in their mood, but the presence of the cyclic highs or mania that is experienced between depressive episodes is often what differentiates this kind of disorder from the others.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
When women feel decreased moods, usually combined with irritability and an excessive lack of self-control, then they are usually experiencing this type of depressive disorder. These symptoms are more than the typical ones that are felt during premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and are more extreme and can have both mental and physical health consequences.
Peripartum / Postpartum Depression
For up to a year after having a baby, some women experience deep mood deflations that don’t level back to normal after the birth of their child. For some, symptoms of peripartum depression will last up to a year. Those that experience this type of depression should be screened for other depressive disorders as the birth of their child may have triggered an unknown mental illness.
Despite its name, atypical depression is relatively common. The difference with this kind of disorder is that while symptoms can be severe (as seen in major depression) or mild and more like persistent depressive disorder, symptoms of the atypical variety can lift with good news or happy events. Where a person feels sad when they are having financial difficulties, they may experience fewer symptoms or the low feeling may actually disappear completely when a person’s fortune changes or they go on vacation. Additionally, symptoms tend to be more physically focused. For example, with this type of depression, a person is more likely to sleep excessively, or their limbs may feel heavy.
This type of depression is more dependent on environmental influences, and because it may not follow typical depressive patterns, this type of depression is often misdiagnosed or ignored and written off by sufferers or their doctors.
Living with Depression
The first step to dealing with this mental illness is seeking help. This means that if any of the following are experienced, then it is a sign that depression may be the culprit.
- The deflated, melancholy or apathetic mood that interferes with daily activities
- Lack of enjoyment of normally engaging activities
- Excessive sleep patterns, sluggishness or feeling restless
- Frequent crying or getting “teary-eyed.”
- Changes in appetite whether not feeling hungry or eating too much
- Physical ailments that seem to persevere but do not seem to have a physical cause
- Ongoing aches and pains that are not caused by an obvious reason such as getting hurt
- Weight loss or gain that seems to have no cause
- Inability to concentrate or fuzzy thinking
- Feelings of uselessness, guilt or not being worthy
- Fearful thoughts of rejection or isolation
- Negative self-thinking
When faced with these kinds of thoughts, understand that you are not alone in your thinking or feeling. To live with and through this disorder, understanding is essential. The next step is taking active steps to overcome and push through the symptoms. Most people need help to do this. Always remember that it is okay to ask for help.
The Scary Side of Sadness
One of the scariest aspects of depression is that the symptoms at their worst can lead to suicide. People report feeling overwhelming emotional responses, and there is an invisible veil that comes with the disorder that can leave sufferers feeling that they will never get any better. For some, especially those that don’t get treatment for their illness, they make the ultimate sacrifice and choose to end their lives.
Most sufferers don’t take this kind of drastic action, but because of the invasive and all-encompassing nature of the illness, they can understand the sentiment and why a person would choose to end their life. Thankfully, most people do not choose this option.
Suicide and Depression
The truth of the matter and what all sufferers should keep in mind when it comes to dealing with this kind of illnesses is that depression is prevalent. Consider that one in six people across the globe experience this kind of mental illness. However, the Mayo Clinic reported a rate ranging from two to nine percent suicide rate of patients with depression in 2000.
This means that millions of individuals understand what it is like to be depressed. This also means that millions of people do not remain depressed. The condition takes time to work through, and when experiencing depression, the best thing that can be done is early action and intervention.
On average, depression disorders can take up to 10 months to fully resolve. Persistent depressive disorder can sometimes last longer and other types of depression such as PMDD or SAD, last for a shorter amount of time, but are recurring without the intervention of counseling and/or medication. For this reason, it is essential to talk to a medical professional about depression symptoms and diagnosis.
When to Call for an Emergency
Because deep sadness leading to suicidal thoughts can happen with all types of depressive disorders, emergency help should be contacted immediately if a person is thinking of harming themselves. Additionally, for those that don’t know where to turn, they should consider calling a hotline or their primary care physician immediately for assistance to get the resources they need when feeling intensive depressive symptoms.