How to Recognize Depression

If you're reading this, then there's a good chance you're struggling with feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness. Something feels off in your life, and even if you can't quite put the words to it yet, there's a reason that you're on a therapist's website reading a blog post about depression.

Today I'll give you an overview of some stats on depression, describe the most common depressive disorders, and tell you a bit about how to know when it's time to ask for help. Spoiler: it's probably now.

Some Depression Stats

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 6.7% of American adults have experienced at least one period of major depression in their lives. That works out to 16.2 million people just in the US alone.

Women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression at a rate of 8.5% in comparison with a rate of 4.8% among men. Does that mean that men don't experience depression as frequently? Men are more likely to experience their depression physically - through headaches, stomach upset, and irritability that leads to impulsive behavior. Maybe this is because of biological differences, but it probably also has to do with how our culture encourages men to repress their emotions.

Sixty-four percent of those 16.2 million depressed people have experienced a depression so severe that it impaired their ability to work, engage at home, or connect socially. Depression also increases the likelihood of over reliance on drugs or alcohol to manage your feelings. And, of course, there's also a higher risk for suicide attempts among people who are particularly depressed. Yet despite that, 37% of depressed adults don't seek treatment, whether that means therapy, medication or a combination of the two.

Symptoms of Depression

The most common symptoms of depression are:

  • Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless

  • Losing interest in activities that use to be enjoyable or meaningful

  • Having significant changes to appetite, either an increase or decrease, which may lead to unintentional weight loss or weight gain

  • Sleeping a lot or very little

  • Feeling restless or feeling like you're moving unusually slowly

  • Feeling tired with little energy

  • Feeling worthless

  • Carrying around more guilt than makes sense given the situation

  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions

  • Wishing for death or seriously contemplating suicide

You don't have to have experience every symptom to meet criteria for a depressive disorder.

Depressive Disorders

The differences between depressive disorders tend to be based on how long they last and whether biological factors may be a part of the picture.

Major Depressive Disorder

This is what we mostly refer to when we talk about people going through periods of depression. This disorder is made up of specific episodes of depression, meaning there's a beginning and end to them.

An episode looks and feels different from normal day-to-day life. It lasts for most of the day, every day for at least two weeks. Unfortunately an episode can go on for months or even years.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

Persistent Depressive Disorder used to be called Dysthymia. The symptoms are the same as Major Depressive Disorder, but the time frame is different. It's basically Major Depressive Disorder, but without the discrete episodes.

This diagnosis is a good fit for people who experience a depressed mood for at least two years and have not gone more than two months at a time without relief from the depression.

Postpartum depression

Ten to 15% of women experience depression within the first three months of having a child. New fathers actually have similar rates of depression, which is often overlooked.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Some women experience the symptoms of depression and mood swings in the days leading up to starting a new period. The intensity of the symptoms can help distinguish between depression and more typical mood changes.

Substance/Medication-Induced Depressive Disorder

This describes the experience of becoming depressed in response to taking a substance (e.g., alcohol, drugs, nicotine, prescription medication) or withdrawing from it.

Depressive Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition

This form of depression sometimes occurs as a physiological response to a medical condition. And, of course, some people become depressed in response to having a medical condition and the difficulties it entails.

When to Get Help

If one of the depressive disorders I have described fits your experience, it's a good idea to reach out to a therapist to learn about your treatment options.

Even if you don't meet the criteria for a specific depressive disorder, sadness, emptiness and hopelessness are an indication that something is off in your life. It can be useful to have a space where you can reflect on your emotional life with professional guidance so you have the best chance of feeling better and moving forward.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, it's particularly important to get help right away. The National Suicide Hotline has people available to speak by phone and online messaging 24/7. Their phone number is 1-800-273-8255.

Questions? Wondering how best to move past your current stuck-ness into the best version of your life? Let's talk.