The normal ups and downs of life mean that everyone feels sad or has “the blues” from time to time. But if emptiness and despair have taken hold of your life and won’t go away, you may have depression. Depression makes it tough to function and enjoy life like you once did. Just getting through the day can be overwhelming. But no matter how hopeless you feel, you can get better. Understanding the signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment of depression is the first step to overcoming the problem.
What is depression?
Depression is a common and debilitating mood disorder that is affecting more and more people around the world. An estimated 350 million people of all ages experience symptoms of depression and about 13 percent of Americans take antidepressants—a figure that jumps to 25 percent for women in their 40s and 50s.
More than just sadness in response to life’s struggles and setbacks, depression changes how you think, feel, and function in daily activities. It can tire or deplete you and interfere with your ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and enjoy your life. Severe depression can be intense and unrelenting.
While some people describe depression as sadness or “living in a black hole,” others don’t feel much at all. They feel lifeless, empty, and apathetic, or men in particular may even feel angry and restless. No matter how you experience depression, left untreated it can become increasingly debilitating. In addition to medication, there are now lifestyle changes that are proving just as effective in relieving mild to moderate forms of depression.
Am I depressed?
If you identify with several of the following signs and symptoms—especially the first two—and they just won’t go away, you may be suffering from depression.
- you feel hopeless and helpless
- you’ve lost interest in friends, activities, and things you used to enjoy
- you feel tired all the time
- your sleep and appetite has changed
- you can’t concentrate or find that previously easy tasks are now difficult
- you can’t control your negative thoughts, no matter how much you try
- you are much more irritable, short-tempered, or aggressive than usual
- you’re consuming more alcohol than normal or engaging in other reckless behavior
What are the signs and symptoms of depression?
Depression varies from person to person, but there are some common signs and symptoms. The more symptoms you have, the stronger they are, and the longer they’ve lasted—the more likely it is that you’re dealing with depression.
Signs and symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
- Loss of interest in daily activities. No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
- Appetite or weight changes. Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
- Sleep changes. Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping.
- Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
- Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
- Self-loathing. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
- Reckless behavior. You engage in escapist behavior such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
- Concentration problems. Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
- Unexplained aches and pains. An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.
Depression and suicide risk
Depression is a major risk factor for suicide. The deep despair and hopelessness that goes along with depression can make suicide feel like the only way to escape the pain. If you have a loved one with depression, take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously and recognize the warning signs:
- Talking about killing or harming one’s self
- Expressing strong feelings of hopelessness or being trapped
- An unusual preoccupation with death or dying
- Acting recklessly, as if they have a death wish (e.g. speeding through red lights)
- Calling or visiting people to say goodbye
- Getting affairs in order (giving away prized possessions, tying up loose ends)
- Saying things like “Everyone would be better off without me” or “I want out”
- A sudden switch from being extremely depressed to acting calm and happy