Signs you Need a Doctor for Depression
Do you think you might be depressed? Here are some of the signs and symptoms to look for and tips for getting the help you need.
No matter how hopeless you feel, you can get better. By understanding the cause of your depression and recognizing the different symptoms and types of depression, you can take the first steps to feeling better and overcoming the problem.
Signs to look out for
When it’s more than just about the blues
Feeling down in the dumps every so often is a normal part of life. But when you’re gripped by an unrelenting sadness or hopelessness that keeps you from going about your usual routine, it’s time to pay attention. It’s the hallmark sign of clinical depression. An estimated 7% of adults will experience it, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Even with this tell-tale sign in place, it’s tough for a depressed person to know if she really has the disease. Almost all of the symptoms of depression on their own are experienced by everyone at one time or another. If you’ve been dealing with four or more of the following symptoms every day for two weeks, and they’ve impaired the way you usually function (for example, prevented you from working, being a responsible parent, or seeing friends), it’s time to check in with your doctor.
You are eating more (or less) than usual
Depression leaves you withdrawn and checked out, and that can manifest as a loss of appetite. If your brain is preoccupied with negative thoughts, you may forget to eat or lose interest in cooking or preparing meals. On the other hand, sometimes the disease kicks in the opposite effect, making you hungry and driving you to overeat. The mix of emotions that tend to accompany depression—sadness, pessimism about the future, and low self-esteem—can compel you to try to soothe your feelings with food binges.
You are sleeping too much (or too little)
Some people with depression find themselves snoozing under the covers more; the disengagement and dip in energy make you tired all the time, says Thomas. Sleeping more is also a way depressed people escape from their sadness; it becomes a refuge. Others with depression experience restless or interrupted sleep or even insomnia. They’re too wired by obsessive thoughts or ruminations to wind down and score the seven to eight hours per night most adults need. Thing is, not only can sleep changes be a tip off to the disease, but they also make it worse. When you’re not getting the proper amount of shuteye, your body’s internal clock gets out of sync, and you’re even more tired and unfocused and less able to cope.
Small things agitate you
It’s a sneaky sign few people recognize: depression can show up as heightened irritability. You might feel cranky and grumpy; little things that normally wouldn’t register set you off and leave you snapping at friends and co-workers. Part of the prickliness may be the way depression exacerbates normal hormonal swings. But it could also be triggered by the weight of so many heavy emotions. When people are in physical pain, they often get angry and irritated easily. It’s the same with psychological pain—you don’t feel good or like your usual self, and that saps your patience and puts you more on edge.
You can’t concentrate or focus
Forgetting work deadlines or when to pick up your kids from a playdate? Feel like your mind resembles an out-of-focus photo, and the fuzziness has made a dent in the way you weigh choices and make decisions? That’s your brain on depression. Being preoccupied with thoughts of sadness and emptiness can plunge you into a head fog that affects your job, memory, and decision-making skills. In turn, that unfocused thinking can lead you to make poor choices or take on unhealthy, risky behavior.
You don’t enjoy the things that once made you happy
You used to hit happy hour with your favorite group of coworkers, but for the last few weeks, you’ve been ducking out. Or you always looked forward to your nightly run, but these days, you can’t muster the interest. Not taking part in things you once enjoyed because they no longer give you pleasure is a tell-tale sign of depression. A person who is simply blue might skip a few outings, then get back in the swing of things. But depression makes you apathetic about activities and hobbies that once gave you joy, and that makes you isolate yourself. It sets up that vicious cycle: depression robs you of your ability to derive pleasure from experiences, so you stop doing the very things that could brighten your mood.
You feel down on yourself and worthless
If you’re constantly putting yourself down, or you feel worthless or inconsequential, something is up. Repetitive thoughts along the lines of ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I don’t matter’ are dangerous because they can fuel self-harming behavior. When you think this way, you tend to find ways to verify the negativity, and that in turn makes you more depressed and more at risk. Extreme guilt for things you aren’t solely responsible for—for example, a bad breakup or sudden job loss—also bashes your self-esteem and is a tip-off to depression.
You are preoccupied with thoughts of death
Persistent thoughts about ending your life, wondering how friends and family would feel if you went and did it, pondering different ways to carry out the act, and even general thoughts about death are all strong indicators that it’s time to reach out for professional help. Because these thoughts pose such a direct threat to your life, it’s important to seek help if you experience them daily or almost every day for two weeks Even if you don’t recognize any other symptoms of depression in yourself.
You are panicky or anxious
Overwhelming feelings of fear are usually thought to signify an anxiety disorder. And while that’s often true, they can also be a clue to depression. Anxious feelings often coincide with depression, and some depressed people have panic attacks. Anxiety is more than just the normal apprehension most of us feel when we’re challenged; it’s a constant feeling of panic and obsessive thoughts that often show up in physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, excessive perspiration, and sleep problems. The tricky thing is, even though anxiety can signal depression, it’s possible that a person with depression also has an anxiety disorder as well. If you feel overwhelming anxiety, consider it another crucial reason to seek help from your doc.
Your energy level has hit the wall
Depression-related lethargy may be simply the consequence of not eating enough or sleeping too much. But it’s also the result of having a black cloud of sadness or hopelessness over you all the time. Dealing with chronic emotional pain is an energy suck, and it makes you too dragged and tired to tackle routine tasks, not to mention work and family responsibilities. You feel overwhelmed by day to day life; even getting out of bed and taking a shower becomes exhausting. When you’re always tired and that fatigue impairs your life, it’s time to seek help.
You are dealing with unexplained aches and pains
Emotional pain from depression that you aren’t getting help for can be channelled throughout your body. It can show up as physical ailments, like headaches, stomach problems, neck and back pain, even nausea. I see this with many of my patients; they’re holding so much sadness and distress inside; these feelings end up playing out in other ways. Not every cramp or twinge is a symptom of depression, of course. But if you’re suffering from a chronic ailment you can’t attribute to another cause that isn’t clearing up on its own. You must see a doctor to get it checked out, but also consider it a possible sign of depression too.
Seeking for help
If support from family and friends and positive lifestyle changes aren’t enough, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. There are many effective treatments for depression, including:
Therapy Effective treatment for depression often includes consulting a therapist. They can provide you tools to treat depression from a variety of angles and motivate you to take the necessary action. Therapy can also offer you the skills and insight to prevent depression from coming back.
Medication may be imperative if you’re feeling suicidal or violent. But while it can help relieve symptoms of depression in some people, it isn’t a cure and is not usually a long-term solution. It is important to consult your doctor before taking any steps.