Recognising depression in yourself and others is easier said than done
Sometimes it seems easier to brush away sadness, shrug off mood swings and pay sleep interruptions no mind. Until public health catches up, the onus is on us to educate ourselves.
I wish they taught us more about mental illness (and how to recognize it) in school. I honestly don’t remember my high school health class ever touching upon it. And man, if I had received help for my anxiety back when I was a teenager… my life would be so much better now, that’s for sure.
Although I’m no stranger to mental illness (hello, Generalized Anxiety Disorder), it took far too long to realize that depression had sunk its insidious hooks into me. Most of the signs and symptoms were there, but I ignored them.
I brushed aside the overwhelming sadness (“it’s just the blues”), shrugged off the mood swings (“must be PMS”), and paid no mind to the sleep interruptions (“I’m getting older, it’s bound to happen”).
In the end, it was the absolute zombification of my mind that finally triggered the realisation that something was horribly wrong.
When I wasn’t curled up in bed, sobbing, I felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. There was no joy, no frustration, no anger, no laughter — just complete indifference. I moved through the world detached and disengaged. Nothing interested me anymore. The things that had once brought me pleasure (favourite shows, comfort foods, socialising with friends) seemed insignificant.
I can’t remember where I’d heard that loss of interest in hobbies was a sign of depression; it may have been one of those damn Zoloft commercials (if you haven’t seen American pharmaceutical ads, you’re missing out on a special kind of horror). It certainly wasn’t in school. What precious few health classes I had were more interested in pointing out how an innocuous organ like the appendix could really ruin your day than teaching us how to recognise the signs of mental illness (you know, that thing that can completely take over your life).
I sought out my doctor, described my symptoms, and together we cycled through a couple of antidepressants until we found the one that worked best for me. As the weeks passed and the drug worked its way into my system, life began to bleed in around the edges.
Before I knew it, I was myself again.
And I. Was. Furious.
How was it that I had made it that far in life without someone – a doctor, nurse, teacher, anyone – educating me on mental illness? It seems so ridiculous to think that I know more about my kneecap than the many ways in which my brain can turn on itself. So, in the interest of raising awareness and reducing stigma, I’d like to take a moment to share the warning signs of depression in hopes that it may help someone, somewhere.
Signs of Depression
At some point in our lives, most of us will feel sad, lonely, or depressed. It’s a natural response to life’s struggles. When these feelings linger, cause physical symptoms, and keep you from leading a normal life, you might be suffering from depression.
Depression is a mood disorder that can have a startling effect on your temperament and emotions. Feelings of unwavering sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, self-hatred, or extreme guilt are all common signs of depression. People who are depressed can be extremely irritable, perhaps having a short temper and lashing out at others.
Depression can make it feel impossible to enjoy the things you once loved. You may feel numb or neutral, and have difficulty focusing, making decisions, or remembering things. You may even engage in risk-led behaviour, such as excessive drinking, drug abuse, unsafe sex, and self harm.
Depression also comes with a whole host of physical symptoms. Sleep issues such as overwhelming fatigue, excessive sleeping, or insomnia are common. You may also experience weight and appetite changes, headaches, back pain, and stomach pain.
What To Do
If you’ve been experiencing the above signs and symptoms for more than two weeks, you may be suffering from major depressive disorder. It’s important to see your GP, a mental health professional, or both.
If someone you love is showing signs of depression, spend some time talking to them and see if you can get them to open up and talk about how they feel. Listen attentively, be kind and empathetic, and offer continued support. If you think it’s appropriate, gently encourage them to see their doctor for medical treatment.
If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts or considering harming themselves, seek immediate treatment. Go to the nearest A&E, contact your mental health provider, or call Samaritans at 116 123 (UK) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (USA).
Normalising Mental Illness
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who had trouble recognising depression. A study from the University of Leicester found that NHS nurses were only able to correctly identify 4 out of 10 patients experiencing depression. The NHS is wonderful and deserves all the support. However, many nursing staff receive little training in mental health — a problem that needs to be remedied.
Much like medical professionals, the general public needs more access to proper education on mental health and illness. Dr. Julie Lucero, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, says that mental health concerns “not only affect the individual, but also their social environment. Training and education for romantic partners, children, friends, and beyond is needed to accomplish the normalisation process.”
Until such a time as public health professional practice catches up, it’s up to mental health advocates to normalise the conversation surrounding mental illness, and you and me to educate ourselves. Hopefully it won’t be too long before government authorities step up because it’s then – and only then – that we can really start to heal.