The signs and symptoms of depression
How do people cope with depression? This is a big question many of us who struggle with mental illness have. The first step to coping is identifying.
What are the first signs of depression?
Asking ourselves these questions can help us determine whether our mental struggle might be a little more serious than we may have thought.
- Am I experiencing a prolonged low mood?
- Have I noticed changes in my sleep patterns, appetite or weight?
- Am I feeling overwhelmed, irritable, sad, run down or fatigued?
- Am I withdrawn, unable to concentrate, or relying on alcohol or substances?
- Do I feel just a bit “flat”, negative, or hopeless?
- Have I lost interest in things I used to enjoy?
- Am I unable to “bounce back” when I feel this way?
- Am I experiencing suicidal thoughts?
While it’s normal to deal with many of these symptoms and emotions from time to time, when combined or experienced for two weeks or longer, it could be a sign of something more than just a simple “bad day” or “low period”. Depression is a commonly experienced mental health struggle, but the good news is, because of that, there are a number of avenues that can be taken to improve our low mood.
Causes of depression
Depression is not as simple as other illnesses or disorders; there is no clear cut explanation as to what causes it. However, there are a number of factors that are often linked to its development, such as recent (sometimes traumatic) events, long term or personal factors, stress, and a predisposition to the condition, which can stem from biological, genetic or psychological factors. There are also a number of different types of depression individuals can experience, which in turn changes where to look for a cause.
What else causes depression?
Continuing difficulties and longer-term struggles, such as a toxic or unhealthy relationship, unemployment, isolation, work stress are categorically more likely to cause depression than once-off occurrences. However, recent events such as losing your job unexpectedly, can sometimes mean a tipping point too, especially if you have already been dealing with ongoing stress.
Such as gender, age, physical illness (e.g. chronic pain), personality (those who are highly sensitive, anxious or self-critical), family history or drug and alcohol abuse can all play their part in determining how susceptible you are to depression.
The brain is a complex organ, and there is still a lot that we don’t know. While it’s not a simple ‘chemical imbalance’, what we do know is that mood regulating neurotransmitters fail to function normally in those who are experiencing depression.
Types of depression
There are many different types of depression, each with their own set of unique and complex experiences that may even vary from person to person. No matter what you are suffering with, it’s important to take your symptoms seriously, as depression can be a huge drain on you – both physically and mentally.
Also known as clinical depression, unipolar depression, major depressive disorder, or simply ‘depression’, major depression is generally diagnosed when an individual feels down most of the time, most days of the week, for two weeks or more. Symptoms interfere with all areas of a person’s life, including relationships, work and socially. It can be diagnosed as mild, moderate or severe, melancholic or psychotic.
Melancholia describes a severe form of depression with present physical symptoms – for example, a person may start to move more slowly. Psychotic describes those who lose touch with reality. They may experience hallucinations or become extremely paranoid.
Dysthymic disorder is a milder form of major depression, however symptoms usually last longer. A person has to have experienced their symptoms for more than two years for it to be considered dysthymia.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
SAD is a mood disorder that follows a seasonal pattern that is thought to be related to the light variation across different seasons. The most common is depression that begins when winter approaches and leaves as it ends. Those experiencing SAD depression are more likely to experience low energy, oversleeping, and weight gain, but it is uncommon in Australia.
Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is diagnosed when an individual experiences extreme “up” and “down” moods, with normal moods in between. Mania feels to its sufferers like the opposite of depression; symptoms include feeling great, having a lot of energy, having racing thoughts or little need for sleep, speaking quickly, having difficulty focussing on tasks, and feeling irritable. Sometimes, it can even cause individuals to lose touch with reality and experience psychosis (e.g. hallucinations or delusions). Conversely, a sufferer can also experience periods of depression and low mood.
Cyclothymic disorder is essentially a less severe form of bipolar. A sufferer experiences fluctuating moods over a minimum of a two year period, involving both hypomania and depressive episodes. The duration of the symptoms are generally shorter, less severe and not as regular.
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If you feel that you’re experiencing any of the above, make sure you reach out to your GP, to our team of psychologists at Mind Matters, to discuss a mental health plan that will help you develop skills and strategies aimed at improving your low mood.