Why Am I Depressed? is a question many people will ask themselves at some point in their lives. Depression is a relatively common condition, going so far as to be known as the common cold of mental health. According to the DSM-5, 7% of the US population have had Major Depression that has persisted for a period of over 12 months. Since for every person who is diagnosed with depression, we don’t really know how many are undiagnosed, these numbers could be conservative. Due to the commonality of this condition, it may be useful to know some of the ways we can identify it:
Do you feel sad and don’t know why?
People who experience depression have a tendency to find themselves feeling sad or hopeless, without knowing exactly why. The negative feelings can come and go without a visible cause, prevail for extended periods of time and may not change just because something positive happens. This separates depression from grief, which is usually tied to memories of the deceased; or from regular sadness which happens in reaction to a negative event.
Have you not exercised lately? Do you sit too much?
Lack of physical exercise is often present in depression. People who spent too much time indoors are not producing the same amount of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) as those who work out regularly. This chemical imbalance turns into an emotional imbalance, because your brain is no longer producing the same amount of energy. Studies have shown this connection and recommend some form of physical exercise to recover said balance.
Have you not slept well lately?
An unhealthy sleep pattern is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of depression. This can mean too much sleep (hypersomnia) or too little sleep (insomnia). The chemical and emotional imbalance of depression affect sleep patterns because levels of serotonin, which regulates sleep, are very low. At the same time a disorderly sleep has effects on your mood and behavior, which tends to reinforce the negative thoughts or cognition in the depression cycle.
Grieving vs Depression
Going through a break up, losing a family member, or even losing a job can be some examples of grieving: we have lost something that was important to us. Now, grief can be very sad and painful, but it is not a pathological process; it’s part of life. However, grieving can sometimes devolve into more severe forms of emotional imbalance, such as depression. In order to differentiate grieving from depression, we can use a few cues:
- In grieving:
- Negative emotions come and go, more often than not, in a manner related to memories of the deceased person or lost object.
- Negative thoughts are focused on the loss, I.E: “I just lost the best job.”, “He was an amazing friend and now he’s gone.”, “She was the best one for me.”, etc.
- The negative thoughts and emotions will usually pass over a relatively short period of time (weeks to months depending on the case).
- In depression:
- Negative emotional states also occur, but their onset is more ambiguous as to their source.
- In grieving:
- A more predominant feature tends to be the state of hopelessness and the loss of interest in everyday activities. Depressive people aren’t necessarily “sad” visibly, but have feelings of hopelessness or emptiness that express a more profound discomfort.
- There is a lower sense of self-worth and the cognitions are directed at this. “I’m not a good person”, “I don’t deserve love”, etc.
Do you often compare yourself to others on social media?
Depression comes accompanied with a sense of low self-worth. Self-worth and self-esteem are actually built through interactions with others, so something people do when they have low self-esteem is they will start comparing themselves to other people, sometimes unconsciously. This is not a healthy thing to do, because it doesn’t really matter how well you fare in life, you will always find someone who has something you don’t or looks happier than you do, and thus whatever unhealthy self-concept you are looking to reinforce you will probably find; even if it’s not there.
Do you have a poor relationship with friends or family members at the moment?
A lack of social support is one of the main risk factors considered in depression: one study claims it can even predict future depression up to ten years later. Now, when a person is depressed their interests and motivations are on a low, and because of this they tend to be less outgoing and social, and when they are social the quality of the interactions may not be the same.
In other words, a lack of social support can bring about depression but depression in turn brings about less quality of social interactions. This simply highlights the importance of having friends and family that are supportive of the person in spite of his/her condition.
Other factors that relate to depression can include: having trouble at work, leading a poor diet, drinking too much alcohol, going through breakups, financial trouble, close relationships passing away, losing something important, smoking, feeling pressure to travel in the Summer time, living in a bustling city, thyroid disease, prescription medication, melatonin imbalance, the season of winter (google Seasonal Affective Disorder) and even not eating enough fish.
Resources to help with depression
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, have feelings of hopelessness or other concerning symptoms, you can seek help. Besides going to a psychotherapist, which is the primary option, you can also use some of the following resources:
Go for a run or even a walk early in the morning: 20 minutes of walking can make a difference in your mood for the rest of the day.
Challenge yourself a little: do something that requires your effort – wether it is intellectual, social or physical. Challenging yourself, if done right, is certain to improve motivation and be a stepping stone to building self-esteem. A key point is to make the challenges achievable, otherwise the effect could be adverse.
Let it out, talk to someone: It could be a friend, spouse or family member, it could also be a therapist or just someone who is willing to listen. Expressing your emotions is important because it sends yourself the message that who you are is worth manifesting.
Last but not least, go to therapy: Speaking with a professional ensures that you have someone who is willing to listen to you and at the same time may provide helpful insight into why you’re feeling how you’re feeling. Make sure you have a psychotherapist that works for you and once you do, just roll with it.
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