Society has this negative view of depression…that it’s bad, it’s something we need to run from, or we shouldn’t confront it because it could make things worse, or we may be scared of it. But in actuality, depression is pretty normal! So many people experience symptoms of depression, that doesn’t mean they are depressed. It is a part of life; life is a roller coaster of happy and not so happy emotions. Life can be really hard at times, and so can depression.
How do we understand more about depression and what that means for us? With October being Depression Awareness Month and October 8th being National Depression Awareness Day, I want to talk about some of these thoughts most of us have probably had at one time or another. Especially with holiday season creeping up around the corner, many people experience the feeling of depression specifically during this time.
What is depression?
The giant book that every therapist uses to explain anything mental health related explains depression as a feeling of sadness, emptiness, maybe even being irritable (DSM-5). Who hasn’t experienced this right?! My supervisor, Dr. Crystal, would say depression is your body’s way of grieving what we needed and didn’t get. To all of you Dr. Google readers out there (is that a lot of us, or just me?!), WebMD says depression makes you feel constant sadness and makes you lose interest in things you use to like. So what does any of this mean for you? Well, it means that what you are feeling is completely okay, and it does not mean anything is wrong with you!!
Why does society have such a negative view on depression?
Unfortunately, society as a whole still hasn’t fully accepted mental health. I question if this is partly due to people wanting an immediate answer and a quick fix. Unfortunately, mental health doesn’t allow for an immediate answer, nor a quick fix. Life’s roller coaster doesn’t happen overnight, so why should treating the effects be any different? I tried to find a simple statistic stating the number of people that experience depression, but unfortunately, it’s such a complex thing that it can’t be broken down into such a simple statistic.
One thing that can be said about depression, it is most common to start in people between 18-29 and more frequent for females, as stated in the diagnostic manual (DSM-5). This does not mean that people don’t experience depression later in life. I also want to add, it is common to experience signs of depression if you have other mental health disorders, for example, anxiety. Some of you readers may be thinking, “but what I’m feeling isn’t normal…” or “what I’m thinking isn’t okay.”
Common Symptoms of Depression
Now lets talk about the common feelings, signs, and thoughts of depression. Some things my clients, and even people in my personal life, experience is:
- feeling of being sad,
- feeling empty,
- not feeling like you have a purpose,
- feeling lost,
- crying “over nothing,”
- changes in diet,
- troubles with sleep,
- being tired,
- not having energy,
- even thoughts of wanting it all just to end.
The first one I want to point out, crying “over nothing.” Even when I talk about this, I always use air quotes for “over nothing.” Why is that? Well, depression isn’t nothing. Crying isn’t nothing. I once had a Native American client, Navajo I believe. During my assessment, I always ask about “coping skills”or things we do to handle stressful situations. This client told me, in their culture, crying is not seen as a weakness. Crying is a physical way for the body to release any negative emotions. I was told their view was that the body needed a way to get rid of all the sadness, anger, hurt, so on and so forth, and it is done through crying. I felt that was the most beautiful explanation of crying.
If we refer back to Dr. Crystal’s definition, depression is a way for the body to grieve and crying is a physical way of grieving. So, through crying, you are helping your body to grieve.
Now to go back to some of the other common thoughts, signs, symptoms of depression, however you want to word it, a lot of those things are really common for people who have felt depressed. Something I’ve heard throughout my clinical career with kiddos, we sometimes have internal booboos. And just like with any other booboo, they hurt, they bleed, they sometimes puss, etc. (yes, I know it’s a gross analogy, but it works right)?! If we don’t get the proper treatment, every time we scratch it, we reopen the wound.
So what happens when our internal booboo’s get scratched, or picked at?
When holiday’s come up, thinking about a loved one, hurts from our past, or whatever it may be for you, we start to bleed and ooze. We do things like:
- eat more or not at all,
- feel like nothing matters,
- over thinking,
- not being able to sleep,
- being tired,
- not wanting to do anything.
This is your body trying to grieve. So instead of being scared of what your body is saying, try to listen to it, what it needs.
What does your body need?
This answer is different for everyone…
This is where I want to talk about “so what happens” or “what do I do if I start to feel this?” Well, that’s a really good question. There are so many things you can do to help when you’re feeling or thinking this way and how you can listen to your body.
First and foremost, there is ALWAYS help. I know that can be scary, asking for help…it’s a really hard thing to do. If you are not comfortable reaching out to someone you know, there are 24 hour, confidential hotlines. This means, they don’t need to know your name or anything about you to help, there are even youth hotlines. If you have someone in your life you trust, a friend, significant other, family member, Facebook group etc., reach out to those people. A lot of times, we just need to talk when we are feeling some of these depressive things.
Ask yourself: are we taking care of ourselves? That is one of the biggest factors. So many people, when they start to feel depressed, their hygiene may slip, it’s normal. So making a point to even take a shower, brush your hair, change your clothes. The smallest thing can make the largest impact.
If you like to draw, write, or color, I always recommend those things to people. There is so much benefit in getting these emotions out on paper.
If your body wants to cry, scream, run, kick, then listen and find a safe way to do what your body needs. I once had a client kick the dirt in their backyard, another kicked a soccer ball, another screamed in their pillow, and another just stopped mid-session and ran to the end of their street. There are so many options, we just have to listen to what our body is saying and give your body what it needs.
Lastly, if your symptoms are increasing, lasting a while, affecting work, friends, family etc., or if you are having any thoughts of hurting yourself, it is okay to seek professional help. Therapy can be taboo or you may have had a negative experience and it can make it difficult to give therapy another chance. And it can be overwhelming when trying to find the right therapist for you.
So here are two quick pointers to hopefully help ease your search:
- contact your insurance for a list of providers in network. If you do not have insurance or are choosing not to go through insurance, you can look up self-pay therapists. If you are on a budget and self-paying, some options to look for are practices who offer a sliding scale or an intern. Many practices will disclose this information on their site, some with fees right there.
- Schedule a consultation or meet and greet to meet them prior to starting services. This way you can get a feel of the therapist and if you may be able to be comfortable with them.
So with all of this information, I hope you have a better understanding of what depression is, and maybe aren’t so scared about experiencing some depressive signs. It’s completely normal, something so many have experienced, and you are not alone. Lastly, I hope this provides you with information on what you can do to help with your symptoms, recognize if and when you need more support, and how to go about getting more support.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- National Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-448-4663