October is Depression Awareness Month, and with approximately 280 million people worldwide affected by depression, it is crucial to continue advocating for depression awareness in order to reduce the associated stigma. Whether you know someone dealing with depression or have experienced it yourself, identifying all the symptoms can be challenging.
Depression Awareness and recognizing the symptoms of depression are essential for understanding one’s mental state. However, the line between depression and sadness often blurs, as depression can skillfully hide itself, making it harder to detect and easier to ignore. Delving deeper into the less common warning signs can unveil concealed depression.
What is Depression?
The first step is comprehending the gravity of this mental illness. Depression is a medical condition that adversely affects a person’s emotional and mental well-being. The independent nonprofit HelpGuide defines depression as a mental disorder that “alters how you think, feel, and function in your daily life. It can disrupt your ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and enjoy life, making even getting through the day feel overwhelming.“
Who Is at Risk?
Depression can develop for various reasons, such as chemical imbalances in serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, a family history of depression, low self-esteem, susceptibility to trauma or stress, and environmental factors like violence, neglect, abuse, or poverty. Recent studies have also revealed a connection between physical illnesses such as strokes, heart attacks, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, hormonal disorders, and depression.
Well-Known and Less-Known Symptoms
Depression severity is mostly determined by the number of reported symptoms. While a wide range of symptoms exists, the most common include a loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite and weight, difficulty concentrating, irregular sleep patterns, intense feelings of anger, sadness, and guilt, as well as recurring thoughts of death or suicide. To diagnose depression, these symptoms must persist for more than two weeks.
While many of us associate depression with these more recognizable symptoms, this conventional understanding only scratches the surface of the multifaceted battle that individuals facing depression must confront. Beyond the well-known aspects, there exist lesser-known yet equally impactful symptoms.
One such symptom is substance abuse, a less-discussed but significant facet of depression. Often, people resort to alcohol and drugs as a means of self-medication in their struggle against depression. Concurrently, extreme fatigue can silently pervade the lives of those affected. The chemical imbalances accompanying depression can relentlessly drain an individual’s energy reserves.
Depression also manifests through physical expressions. Unintentional physical activities like pacing or twitching serve as coping mechanisms for the inner turmoil experienced by those with depression. Furthermore, individuals grappling with depression may find themselves dealing with various bodily aches and pains. This can be attributed to the influence of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, which not only regulate emotions but also play a role in modulating pain perception. Additionally, a diminished sex drive often accompanies depression due to a loss of interest in pleasurable activities.
Social and Economic Hurdles
Although understanding these symptoms is crucial in identifying depression, seeking help can be a daunting task. Lack of insight, limited awareness, and societal stigma are major barriers that prevent people from seeking help or treatment. Fear of being labeled as weak, ignoring clear signs of mental illness, and downplaying serious issues are some reasons individuals with depression may hesitate to accept assistance.
An estimated one in six people will experience depression at some point in life, with the highest prevalence among those with the lowest household income. The economic cost of depression can be staggering, with research indicating that those seeking medical treatment can expect to pay close to $1,300 a year out of pocket. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “For every dollar spent on depression-related direct costs, an additional $2.30 is spent on depression-related indirect costs.” This also explains why many individuals diagnosed with depression do not seek treatment.
Supporting Loved Ones in Depression Awareness Month and Beyond
If you recognize depressive symptoms in a friend or family member, it is essential to approach the situation with patience and kindness. Be attentive to signs of self-isolation, and maintain contact, either over the phone or in person, to combat this tendency. Listening and offering gentle encouragement can demonstrate your care for them. However, it is equally important to establish boundaries and prioritize your self-care.
Having a comprehensive understanding of depression symptoms is vital to responding more compassionately, patiently, and supportively to those living with depression or any other mental illness. Depression Awareness plays a crucial role in this understanding. If you identify these behaviors and feelings in yourself or someone else, consider seeking help from a healthcare professional or a free national helpline, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Strock. (2002). Depression. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health.
Melinda Smith, M. A. (2023, August 14). Depression symptoms and warning signs. HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-symptoms-and-warning-signs.htm
Nearly one in ten Americans reports having depression. Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. (2022, October 3). https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/news/nearly-one-ten-americans-reports-having-depression#:~:text=Depression%20was%20more%20common%20among,%2C%20income%2C%20and%20education%20groups
Robertson, G. (2022, February 9). Recognizing the lesser-known symptoms of depression. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/February-2022/Recognizing-the-Lesser-Known-Symptoms-of-Depression
What is depression?. Psychiatry.org – What Is Depression? (n.d.). https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression
The economic cost of depression is increasing; direct costs are only a small part. Psychiatry.org – The Economic Cost of Depression is Increasing; Direct Costs are Only a Small Part. (2021, May 27). https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/the-economic-cost-of-depression-is-increasing