Understanding the signs of depression
Depression, it’s a big dark word. Most of us have likely felt ‘a bit depressed’ from time to time. Or perhaps you’ve heard some news that you thought was ‘a bit depressing’. It’s a word we’ve assimilated into our day to day vocabulary to mean things are a bit shit. There is however more to this word. It has a clinical definition, and understanding the signs of what real depression is can help you identify them in yourself and others.
In the clinical sense of the word, depression is a state of being that changes how you think and feel. Someone who is suffering from depression would generally have an overwhelmingly negative self evaluation in most or all aspects of their life. It affects how you see the world, as if the colours have been drained. Churchill famously described depression as if a black dog was following him wherever he went.
In the UK the office of national statistics reported in 2019 one in ten people had suffered from a depressive episode, (lasting at least two weeks). This increased to one in five in 2020. A rise in depression seems understandable given what we have collectively experienced over the past year.
If you do experience depression, the way you experience it will be as unique as you are. There are however ten common traits that you could expect to see:
Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
Loss of interest in hobbies, work, sex, social activity
Weight changes ( a 5% increase or decrease in a month)
Sleep changes, either needing more or less- perhaps not feeling rested when you wake
Irritability or anger, (this is a more common trait in men)
Loss of energy/ motivation
Self-loathing and negative thinking patterns
Destructive or reckless behaviours
Lack of ability of focus and concentrate
Unexplained physical pains, (a more common symptom with older people)
If you are reading this list thinking I’ve had all of these, fear not, we’ve all had times of overwhelm. A depressive episode is most commonly defined as lasting at least two weeks, but for some it goes on for years. It may consist of one or a combination of the above factors.
There are also factors that make you more predisposed to depression:
Significant life changing event, a death, divorce or serious illness
Chronic Illness and pain
Family history of depression
Early childhood trauma
Abusing drugs and alcohol
Depression doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Simply because you recognise yourself or someone you know in the above doesn’t mean you will never see or find joy again. If you want to change the way you feel however it will require making changes to your life. This is always easier said than done.
Below are some simple ways you can help support yourself.
Be aware of the food choices you are making. Acknowledge if you are reaching for those crisps or biscuits out of comfort rather than hunger.
Sleep is magical. It’s the brain’s equivalent of putting your phone on to charge. Create a calm environment in your bedroom and get those eight hours a night.
Alcohol and Drugs
Sorry to be the fun police here, but if your mood is low, step away from the booze or whatever you use recreationally. Alcohol is a depressant and the come down from some drugs can often leave you very low for lengthy periods.
To quote Elle Woods, ‘Exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy’. Moving your body has so many benefits both mentally and physically. Commit time everyday to moving your body in whatever way you enjoy.
I talk about this a lot. I am a firm believer in feelings and emotions being released though either talking to someone or writing. Words are powerful. Use yours to help yourself.
Start small. Every day ask yourself, what one small ‘doable’ thing am I going to do today to help me feel better.
As a caveat if your mood is very low, and simple tips won’t cut it, please reach out to me, a friend or a family member. Please seek the help and support I know you deserve. The Samaritans are open 24/7. In the UK they can be reached on 116 123.
Remember whatever you are going through you aren’t alone.