Sadness can be good. As the cliche goes, sadness is the dark night sky that helps keep the light that are stars in your life shining bright. Not knowing what sadness feels like means to not know what true joy contains. Even still, a balance is required in all things, and when you stay stuck in the land of sadness (or Eeyore’s Gloomy Place) for too long, sadness gradually alters into its less helpful counterpart: depression.
But fret not – you wouldn’t be alone on the wasteland that is depression. As of 2017, the National Institute of Mental Health documents that approximately 17.3 million American adults struggle with major depressive disorder, and in 2018, it was reported that 1.9 million children between the ages of 3-17 have diagnosed depression. While these numbers seem bleak, knowing and understanding what this information represents can help you make a difference in reducing those statistics.
If it’s been stated that 5% of the world’s population is affected by depression, that implies that 1 in every 20 people you meet could potentially be experiencing a few of the symptoms listed below. Read on to uncover whether someone you know could be falling into depression – or to identify if that person is actually you.
One of the most prevalent signs of depression is fatigue, with additional symptoms of impaired focus, increased levels of irritability, and disruptions in productivity following closely behind. As important as rest and recovery days are, noticing either you or a loved one experiencing consistently low levels of energy can be one of the first signs of oncoming depression.
While chronic fatigue can appear as having difficulties completing physical tasks or chores, other ways of it manifesting can include seeming more apathetic than usual, loss of care for previously loved interests, and/or feeling frequently unmotivated towards small and big goals alike. Note that not all cases of chronic fatigue lead to depression – sometimes, it can be a sign of the body battling a physical illness, like an infection or fever. Be sure to use your best discernment to decipher if someone’s chronic fatigue is related to depression or not before immediately assuming so.
Notice if someone seems more emotionally unavailable than what is normal for them. Do they seem distant and disconnected from others more than usual? Are they having difficulties expressing feelings of optimism and hope? Falling into depression can cause you to feel vulnerable when positive emotions like these arise, which makes you more inclined to suppress your feelings altogether. Unfortunately, this would only be the cause for deeper concern, being that a suppression of expression can lead to depression.
Though you might feel the impulse to push your loved one towards connecting, it might be better to simply let them know that you’ve noticed a difference in their behavior and that if and when they feel ready, you’ll be there for them to talk to. This lets them know that while you care, you respect their free will and levels of comfort, first and foremost.
We all have tendencies to either sleep and eat more or less when we experience stressful periods in our life. Reflect upon your own experiences and consider which side of the spectrum you would categorize yourself under. Do you tend to emotionally eat and sleep more when undergoing stress? Or do you lose your appetite and have difficulty falling and staying asleep in times of emotional duress?
Those who tend to sleep more and emotionally eat are possibly looking to escape through either activities. Eating food – especially the extra delicious kinds like cookies, pizza, and chips – leads to the production of dopamine, which then activates the good-feeling centers of the brain, while sleeping in can be a way of passing time when someone feels they have nothing to look forward to. In contrast, losing one’s appetite could be caused by a developing sense of apathy towards everyday pleasures or a decreased desire to fuel one’s body for health purposes. Anxiety, a close friend of depression, may also hinder someone’s sleep cycle by keeping them up late at night.
A study researching the correlation between sleep and depression found that waking up an hour earlier could reduce a person’s risk of developing depression by 23%. Maintaining a healthy balance in regards to your eating and sleeping patterns is a simple and accessible way to deter the negative effects of depression.
People who are struggling with depression may exhibit self-deprecation by expressing harsh criticisms towards themself or behaving in ways that reinforces their sense of feeling small. They may feel undeserving of the compliments and praise you give them, and will often feel uncomfortable when they’re given positive attention. They may also express extreme feelings of guilt or shame over what may seem to others as trivial.
Not everyone who is grappling with depression will seem gloomy and negative. Some can hide their dark feelings and self-doubt from others by masking it through comedic quips. Be mindful and observant of your loved ones and see if they seem to be making more seemingly harmless jokes about themselves at their own expense.
Dropping Healthy Habits
Ever notice how you feel less like yourself when you have a couple weeks of slacking on a healthy habit you intended to maintain? Whether that be drinking enough water throughout the day, going for a 10-minute walk daily, or prioritizing time to spend with your pets, having healthy habits to lean on helps keep you grounded and centered. Understandably, the busy-ness of life can get in the way and you might miss a day or two of consistency – and that’s alright! But stumble into a long-term pattern of falling off the tracks, and your body, mind, and soul will feel it.
While healthy habits can keep you holistically well, detering symptoms of depression and anxiety from arising, depression can make you less motivated to take that walk or feed yourself properly. If you notice that you or a loved one have been less disciplined in day-to-day life, consider the possibility that depression or another mental struggle may be at play.
Canceling Plans Often
If someone you know suddenly seems flakier than usual with their commitments, before assuming the worst about their character, consider the possibility that they may be experiencing mental health symptoms that hinder their desire to socialize or be seen. Depression is well-known for making even the simplest day-to-day activities feel dishearteningly tedious. Those who have experienced symptoms of depression have reported having trouble getting out of bed, taking showers, getting the mail, and/or answering phone calls. The prevailing feeling of hopelessness makes it a challenge to foresee the long-term benefits of these activities.
Understand that everyone’s version of self-care may look different during times like these. While you may enjoy having the presence of loved ones around, someone else would prefer to hunker down to work through their emotions independently. Offer your support, but be sure to allow your loved one the space to approach you at their own preferred pace.
If you witness a loved one exhibiting a few of these signs, they may be struggling with an onset of depression. Keep in mind that while you may have some ideas of how to help, the first and most important factor to consider is how much help your loved one would want, or if they’d want your help at all. Unless someone is on the verge of hurting themselves or another, it’s considered a wise decision to support them in a way they feel is most helpful, rather than impose what you believe they need upon them.
Have faith and confidence in their abilities to overcome and learn what they need to from their challenging experiences. Afterall, the most loving gift you can impart upon another through their dark night is your unconditional and unwavering belief in the strength of the light glowing innately within them.
For more resources and tips on how to identify signs of depression, be sure to check out our Psych2Go YouTube channel for more videos like the one below:
“Depression Statistics.” Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, 12 July 2019, https://www.dbsalliance.org/education/depression/statistics/.
“Depression.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression.
Goldsmith, Barton. “Stop Beating Yourself up!” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-fitness/201805/stop-beating-yourself.
Singh, Minati. “Mood, Food, and Obesity.” Frontiers in Psychology, Frontiers Media S.A., 1 Sept. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4150387/.
Staner, Luc. “Sleep and Anxiety Disorders.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, Les Laboratoires Servier, Sept. 2003, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181635/.
Targum, Steven D, and Maurizio Fava. “Fatigue as a Residual Symptom of Depression.” Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, Matrix Medical Communications, Oct. 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3225130/.