What is depression? What are the signs of depression? How to treat depression? It's all explained here.

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | August 2, 2021

Hi! In this post, I'll be talking about depression: what it is, the signs to look for, and tips to assist you in getting the help you need if you find yourself struggling with the question, "Am I depressed?"

Because while it's normal to experience sadness and to feel down at specific periods of your life, depression is an entirely different experience.

So let's jump right into some of the things therapists look for when a client or patient is wondering if they're depressed.

Signs of depression

Examples of statements therapists pay attention to when diagnosing depression are:

  • "I feel like nothing will get better, and there's nothing I can do to make a difference"
  • "I have no interest in spending time with friends or family. I barely leave my home or room."
  • "I'm experiencing either significant weight loss or weight gain"
  • "I have trouble sleeping at night. Or I'm up all night and sleep during the day. Or I struggle to get out of bed."
  • "Everything is irritating me, and I can't control it. I feel like I'm going to snap."
  • "I feel like it takes me forever to do things that used to take me only a few minutes"
  • "I feel like I'm always screwing up, and I'll never be good enough"
  • "My body is constantly aching"
  • "I'm having difficulty concentrating and remembering things"

These statements may sound familiar to you or may leave you wondering, "Hey, are you sure those comments aren't more closely related to anxiety or ADD?"

Yes, you're right. That's because depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorders often go hand-in-hand.

Furthermore, our depression, anxiety, or ADD/ADHD symptoms are typically different from other people we know struggling with these mental health conditions. That's why it's critical to speak to a licensed mental health professional to engage in treatment for these conditions versus self-medicating or trying to manage the symptoms on your own.

Types of depression

There are many reasons why you may feel depressed. You could be experiencing Bipolar Depression, also known as manic depression, which characterized by severe mood shifts that last days and go from mania to depression. It's often misdiagnosed or left mistreated if we only reach out to mental health professionals when experiencing a low episode.

Depression, like many DSM 5 disorders, has different levels of severity ranked as either mild, medium, or severe. And, while this might seem complicated, knowing what type you have could help you manage your symptoms and to assist you in getting the most appropriate treatment.

Let's start with discussing mild to moderate depression, called Dysthymia.

Dysthymia is characterized by feeling blue or sad more days than not and having low self-esteem with a lack of interest in engaging in activities. This doesn't mean you won't have days where you experience a stable mood. It's that you're feeling restless most days.

Then there is severe depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder. This lasts for months or longer. A person can be diagnosed with MDD and have only a single episode, but most MDD experience recurring episodes.

There is also Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a form of depression that affects 1 to 2% of the population and comes on during the winter months in response to less sunlight, which means that in spring and summer you feel more energized, motivated, and like yourself. In fall and winter, you feel restless, disconnected, and blue.

Depression risk factors

There are a variety of causes and risk factors that can contribute to us feeling depressed. Things like taking certain medications (i.e., certain kinds of blood pressure medicine) or other health-related issues (i.e., hypothyroidism) can cause depression. Depression is typically the result of many factors, including biological, psychological, and environmental factors.

Despite what you've maybe seen on television or read in magazines, depression isn't something that can be cured with a pill because psychotropic medications are NOT preventive medicine. This means that it may assist you in managing the severity of your symptoms and how they impact your day-to-day functioning but they won't magically make the underlying causes of your depression go away. Talk therapy, specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is the best way to the root causes of your depression.

Other risk factors that can make you susceptible to feeling depressed are:

  • Feeling lonely and isolated: not having close family or friends available to talk to or see
  • Relationship problems: fighting, divorce, an abusive relationship
  • Stressful life events: the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, financial stress
  • Family history of depression: while there is no one specific depression gene, growing up in a home with mental illness present could have left you struggling to develop and build on healthy coping skills
  • Childhood trauma: early life stressors of abuse, bullying, or trauma can make you more susceptible to developing depression as you get older
  • Substance use: often used to self-medicate symptoms of depression and is a double-edged sword because it increases your risks of becoming depressed post use. (Keep in mind that they call alcohol a depressant for a reason.)

Depression treatment

How do you get better? There are lots of things you can do to lift and stabilize your mood. You can do things like:

  • Move your body for 45 to 60 minutes each day: this is a treatment prescribed by many physicians because research has shown that exercise is the most effective coping skill for mild to moderate depression.
  • Spending the majority of your day outside of your home: that could mean meeting up with friends, learning a new hobby, or volunteering for a cause you're passionate about.
  • Improving your diet and sleep: restricting caffeine consumption, eating fruits and vegetables, and aiming to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
  • And talking to a mental health professional!

Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to do all of these things at once. The key is to start somewhere. Feeling better takes time, and you can help yourself getting there by making positive lifestyle changes in your life starting today.