October is National Depression Education & Awareness Month. This month is dedicated to eliminating the stigma of depression and empowering people to support each other more effectively. Learning the signs of depression is a valuable way to protect your health and recognize if someone you care about is struggling.
What is Depression?
Depression can describe several types of mental health disorders. Collectively, these conditions are referred to as depressive disorders.
Common depressive disorders include major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and major depression with peripartum onset (which is commonly referred to as postpartum depression). These disorders are differentiated primarily by the severity and duration of the symptoms a person experiences, as well as when these symptoms begin.
Untreated depression can be devastating. Thankfully, though, depressive disorders are treatable conditions. When a person gets proper treatment, they can experience a considerable improvement in their quality of life.
Signs of Depression
Common signs of depression include mood swings, low energy, abnormal sleep patterns, changes in appetite, pervasive sadness, and a persistent sense of hopelessness. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not differentiate depression signs by gender. However, Johns Hopkins Medicine has noted the following differences in signs of depression:
Depression Signs in Men
Men who have depression are more likely to exhibit irritability and anger. They are also more likely to feel exhausted in the morning. Losing interest in hobbies or other important activities, a common sign of depression, appears to be more prevalent among men than among women.
Also, the suicide rate is much higher among men than among women. Depression is not the sole cause of suicide, but many people who attempt to end their own lives struggle with a depressive disorder.
Depression Signs in Women
Common depression signs in women include feelings of guilt or failure. While men tend to express anger, women with depression are more likely to be sad. Other signs of depression among women include problems with concentration and body dissatisfaction. Also, women who have depression seem to experience the onset of symptoms at a younger age than men do.
Overall, women are about twice as likely as men to seek treatment for depression. Experts have not yet confirmed if this means that the disorder is more common among women, or if women are more proactive about reaching out for professional help.
How to Tell If You’re Depressed
Depression makes itself known with changes in mood, energy, mindset, and behaviors. Here are some signs that may indicate you’re depressed:
- You feel tired all the time, even after a good night’s sleep.
- Your sleep patterns are changing. This can include insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep) and hypersomnia (sleeping too much).
- You have little to no motivation and find it difficult to get through the day. Even basic tasks at work or in school are a struggle.
- Appearance and hygiene suffer. You may go for extended periods without showering, combing your hair, or even changing your clothes.
- Your appetite has changed, and you have unintentionally either gained or lost a noticeable amount of weight.
- Frequent headaches, stomach aches, or other types of pain that aren’t related to a specific external cause increase in frequency and intensity.
- Thoughts of death and dying occur more frequently. You think the world might be a better place with you gone. You have considered self-harm or suicide.
Important note: If you have been having thoughts of suicide, or you suspect that someone you know has been having such thoughts, please get help immediately. Contact a trusted friend or family member. If you are in the United States, call 988. This is the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. The person who takes your call can connect you with sources of help in your area.
Depression and Self-Medicating
Before receiving a diagnosis and entering treatment for depression, many people respond to the signs of depression by attempting to self-medicate.
Self-medication can take many forms. Some people try supplements, herbal remedies, or other over-the-counter (OTC) options. Other people turn to alcohol or other substances as a means of numbing themselves to the psychological pain they have been experiencing.
Self-medicating is not always an intentional action. This may be especially true among people who choose alcohol or other addictive drugs. In these instances, a person may not even suspect that they are experiencing the signs of depression. They may just know that something feels off, and that substances provide temporary respite.
Regardless how a person tries to self-medicate for depression, they may be placing themselves in considerable danger.
Dangers of Self-Medication
In general terms, self-medicating to cope with the signs of depression puts people at risk for two types of harm:
- Their depression symptoms will persist, and can get worse.
- The self-medicating may cause additional problems.
These risks are perhaps most pronounced if a person uses addictive or illegal substances. This includes using prescription medications meant for someone else.
Getting drunk or high can put a person in a state where they are momentarily free from their depression symptoms. However, this so-called “freedom” will dissipate the moment the effects of whatever drug the person has taken wear off.
To counter this, a person may feel compelled to engage in ongoing substance abuse. This can lead to a variety of negative outcomes, including:
- Onset or worsening of other mental health concerns
- Physical damage from the substance abuse
- Social and emotional damage from the substance abuse
- Development of addiction
Even if someone wants to use a legal, over-the-counter substance to self-medicate the signs and symptoms of depression, they should talk to a doctor or other expert before doing so.
Should I Seek Help for My Depression?
The best way to determine if you should seek help for your depression is to consult with a qualified healthcare provider. Once you’ve completed a thorough assessment, this professional can provide you with both an accurate diagnosis and a recommendation for treatment.
Depression treatment can take many forms. Moreover, depending on your needs, you may benefit from residential care, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), an intensive outpatient program (IOP), or another type of treatment. However, to find out what’s best for you, you first need to speak with a professional about the nature and severity of the depression signs you have been experiencing.
Begin Depression Treatment in South Florida
Neuroscience Institute offers personalized residential and outpatient services for adults who have developed depressive disorders and other mental health concerns. Our center in South Florida is a source of quality care and compassionate support. Contact us today to learn how we can help.