Do you consider yourself knowledgeable enough to spot the signs of depression when you see it? If you are someone who often reads our articles, watches our videos, and frequents other psychology-related self-help websites or journals, then you might answer yes. And while we’re certainly grateful for the recent mental health awareness movement that’s been happening all over the world, there might still be a lot left for us to learn about the true nature of depression.
With that said, here are 7 surprising habits you might develop when you have depression:
1. Having irregular sleeping/eating habits
According to the American Psychological Association (2013), among the most prominent symptoms of a depressive episode is a “significant disturbance in one’s sleeping and eating patterns.” And yes, while the most common manifestations for this would be insomnia, weight loss, and a lack of appetite, some people struggling with depression may do the opposite and end up oversleeping or overeating. This is called “atypical depression”, and those who have this specific type of depression are at greater risk of being undiagnosed, dismissed, and mislabelled as simply being “lazy”.
(If you want to know more signs you might be depressed and not just “lazy”, you can read our article about it here).
2. Having mood swings/outbursts
Have you noticed yourself having more difficulty controlling your emotions lately? Do you often get upset, angry, irritated, or hurt about the littlest things when you never used to before? Something that might surprise most people to learn about depression is that, even though we might picture someone who’s depressed as being emotionally numb, empty, and apathetic, depression can also make us moodier and more emotionally volatile. Having frequent, uncharacteristic outbursts (like suddenly crying for no reason, or snapping at someone out of the blue) can actually be taken as a sign that someone’s mental health is falling apart and they might already be suffering from depression (Chen, Sykora, Jackson & Elayan, 2018).
3. Making muted cries for help
Whether we want to admit it or not, the truth is, we all need help from other people every now and them. And as much as we might want not to need anyone else or as hard as we might try to do everything by ourselves, there’s no shame in asking for help when we need it. The problem is, people with depression often find this painfully difficult to do, for fear that they might be seen as a burden by their loved ones or that their struggles might be invalidated and misunderstood, so they resort to making muted cries for help instead. Some common examples include: denying that something’s wrong, even when they’re already crying or breaking down; making self-deprecating jokes or having a “dark sense of humor”; or coming up with cover stories that are such blatant lies that you just have to ask them the truth.
4. Overspending/impulse buying
Has your shopping or spending been out of control lately? Do you often find yourself buying lots of things on impulse, when you used to be so frugal and financially savvy? For some people suffering from depression, this kind of behavior isn’t uncommon. It’s most likely a maladaptive coping mechanism; buying things to make you feel better and treating yourself to luxury goods to serve as a distraction or a self-esteem booster (Glatt & Cook, 2007).
5. Constantly searching for meaning
Searching for meaning is something that’s inherent to human nature, and deep down inside, all of us are looking for our reason for being, wondering what we were put on this Earth to do and be. But unlike people struggling with depression, it’s not usually at the forefront of our minds. Depression, however, has a way of making us feel like we’re constantly wasting our time and potential when we’re not chasing greatness or success.
Remember that famous quote written by Louisa May Alcott, “I want to be great or nothing”? Well, this is exactly the reason why people who are depressed are more vulnerable to feelings of nihilism and inadequacy (Creasy, 2020). But in reality, you could be the most unremarkable person to ever walk the Earth, and your life would still be worth living because existence in and of itself is already so beautiful and so meaningful.
6. Pondering about life and death
Something you might notice if you ever find yourself around people struggling with depression is that they are surprisingly insightful, perceptive, and wise beyond their years. This is because they spend a lot of their time thinking and pondering about matters like life and death. Indeed, depression can make even the most easygoing and extroverted of us more introspective, deep, philosophical, and intense – which brings us to our next point!
7. Being more creative
Last but certainly not the least, something that might surprise you about depression is just how much it can fuel our need for creativity and self-expression. Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Frida Kahlo, Kurt Cobain, and Vincent Van Gogh – what do they all have in common? Well, it’s people like them who inspired the “tortured artist” trope, the idea that artistic genius and mental illness often go hand-in-hand.
But while we certainly aren’t romanticizing depression or mental illness (like so many other forms of media so dangerously do) it is however worth noting that having a creative outlet to better express ourselves can make a world of difference in helping us deal with such painful and powerful thoughts and feelings.
So, were you surprised by any of the things we mentioned on our list? Did you learn something new about the many faces of depression? If you or anyone you know is struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental healthcare professional today and get the help you need.
- American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition. APA Publishing.
- Chen, X., Sykora, M. D., Jackson, T. W., & Elayan, S. (2018, April). What about mood swings: Identifying depression on twitter with temporal measures of emotions. In Companion Proceedings of the The Web Conference 2018 (pp. 1653-1660).
- Glatt, M. M., & Cook, C. C. (2007). Pathological spending as a form of psychological dependence. British Journal of Addiction, 82(11), 1257-1258.
- Creasy, K. (2020). The Problem of Affective Nihilism. In The Problem of Affective Nihilism in Nietzsche (pp. 87-106). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.