According to the World Health Organisation, “Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease”.
Depression or the more accurate medical term – Major Depressive Disorder is a common, treatable illness that causes feelings of sadness and possibly, a host of emotional and physical problems.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5) has outlined the following diagnostic criteria for diagnosing depression. To be diagnosed with depression at least 5 of these symptoms must be occurring persistently for over two months and severely impact day-to-day functioning. The symptoms must also be unexplainable by other diagnoses such as substance abuse
While it is not advised to diagnose yourself with any mental illness, here are a few common symptoms to remember. If you believe yourself to be depressed, then please reach out to a professional for help.
Feelings of Sadness
A persistent feeling of emptiness or sadness is often described in regards to depression. The illness has become so characterized by this feeling that in casual conversation the word depression is often used interchangeably with sadness.
The sadness of depression is not however a regular off-day. Recent research has found that compared to people without depression, those depressed quite literally see the world as more grey in color.
The sadness characterized by depression changes their perception of the world, making things appear less bright and vibrant. This persists for months on end without any relief.
Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
Officially referred to as ‘Anhedonia’, it is a hallmark depressive trait. But as with all depressive symptoms, not everyone who is depressed experiences Anhedonia.
There are two main types, Social Anhedonia and Physical-
Social Anhedonia is a disinterest in social contact – not wanting to meet friends and family, not enjoying time spent in the company of others.
Physical Anhedonia is a disinterest in ‘tactile pleasure’ such as eating, physical touch, and intimacy. Both can manifest in social withdrawal.
Anhedonia is also seen as a loss of interest in hobbies and recreation that used to be enjoyable.
Sudden and/or unexpected changes in weight are considered signs of depression because they are related to many other symptoms of depression. Depending on the individual, lack of appetite may be due to fatigue or anhedonia. In older people, it’s also been seen as a disinterest in cooking for themselves.
On the other hand, overeating can occur because of emotional eating associated with feelings of sadness and worthlessness.
Problems sleeping or sleeping too much
Changes in sleep habits are a common symptom of depression. Irregular sleep patterns can also trigger depression, be a symptom and worsen depression. One of the most helpful depression treatments is setting up a stable sleep routine.
Irregular sleep patterns also affect brain activity and can lead to problems with daily functioning.
Loss of energy or fatigue
Since depression is associated with lack of interest and sleep problems, fatigue and lack of energy are very obviously the next stepping stone. A possible lack of sleep and changes in food intake, all contribute to a lack of energy and constant tiredness. This is seen along with diminished focus, increased effort to do physical tasks, general weakness, slowed thinking and decreased attention.
Increase in purposeless physical activity
The DSM 5 specifies that these activities include the inability to sit still, pacing and handwringing. This sort of agitation can also be caused by substances in the system, alcohol withdrawal and other disorders. So it is imperative to be clear of those diagnoses first.
Slowed movements or speech
While an important symptom of depression, it is important that the actions must be severe enough that they are observable by others. This is seen in observation of the speed and volume of speech, facial expression, eye movements and posture. For example, a manifestation would be slumped posture, constant pauses in speech, poor maintenance of eye contact and slow movement of the body.
Feeling worthless or guilty
Depressive individuals tend to blame themselves for failure to an extent that it leads to decreased self-worth, hopelessness and depressed mood. Leading to feelings of worthlessness and guilt.
Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
Concentration difficulties are one of the foremost complaints of depressed individuals. Difficulties in cognition and thought cause major problems in their day to day lives and can be quite scary to experience.
Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of death
This is an extreme symptom of depression and if you are having suicidal thoughts, please speak to a professional or reach out to a family or friend. Here is a link to helpline numbers all over India: http://www.aasra.info/helpline.html
While you may not have depression if you feel overwhelmed or in distress, please do not hesitate to avail yourself of psychological services. Helplines and psychological professionals will only help you with your burden and there is no shame in asking for that help – no matter how small or irrelevant your issues may feel. You do not need to have a major mental illness to get mental help.