If you have a loved one that struggles with depression, it’s important to offer the empathy and support that they need. Knowing what depression feels like can help you build that empathy and help you understand why they need ongoing support.
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a mood disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and acts. Most people label this disorder as “depression.” However, MDD is more than a depressed mood and can often be made up of multiple episodes of depression. For the sake of this article, we will refer to depressive episodes as depression.
Having a depressive episode is like a persistent and deep form of sadness that won’t lift even if circumstances change. Depression often affects how a person sees themselves and the world around them. Some of these effects can severely undermine their working and personal relationships.
What Are the Causes and Triggers of Depression?
Briefly, we need to consider what can trigger and cause depression. Grasping this is important to help you understand that depression isn’t a choice that anyone makes, nor is it something that they can simply stop feeling.
Depression symptoms can return or appear when they are triggered by psychological, physical, or emotional events. Some of the more common triggers of depression include experiencing a medical crisis, stressors such as the loss of a loved one or family conflict, and interrupted depression treatment that causes a recurrence of depression symptoms. Many of these triggers are unavoidable and difficult to anticipate.
Doctors don’t fully understand what causes depression, but there are several possible causes that have been suggested, and these include biological, hereditary, and environmental causes. Some of the common causes of depression are:
Your genetic inheritance and family history. If you have family members with a history of depression, there’s a likelihood of developing depression or another type of mood disorder.
Brain structure and chemistry. A frontal lobe that’s less active than normal may result in a greater risk of depression. It’s not entirely certain if this change occurs prior to the onset of depression or as a result of it. A chemical imbalance in the parts of the brain that affect one’s thoughts, mood, and behavior may increase the risk of depression.
Life experiences. These include childhood trauma, chronic illness, and substance abuse. These experiences can increase your risk of developing depression.
What Depression Feels Like
There are some symptoms and experiences of depression that are typical for most people, such as feelings of sadness and loss of interest in and enjoyment of tasks that were previously enjoyable. To diagnose someone with MDD, a mental health professional will look to see if certain symptoms are present for at least two weeks.
Some of these symptoms include the following:
- Poor concentration
- Feelings of excessive guilt or low self-worth
- Significant changes in appetite
- Fatigue or low levels of energy
- Disrupted sleep
- Feeling hopeless about the future
- Having thoughts about death or suicide
When a person is having a depressive episode, they will experience significant challenges in important areas of their daily functioning such as at school, work, and in their relationships.
What Depression Feels Like in Men
For different groups of people, there are some typical experiences of depression and ways it will manifest. Men, for instance, may feel overwhelmed by depression. This will often result in a greater likelihood of drinking alcohol in excess, engaging in risk-taking behavior, and/or displays of anger.
Males will also find themselves isolating themselves by avoiding family and social situations and burying themselves in their work. This may cause strain in relationships. With fraying tempers, males may begin to display controlling and abusive behaviors that weren’t present in the relationship before the depression.
Additionally, men will often find themselves feeling angrier, more aggressive, irritable, anxious, and more restless than usual. They will find themselves unable to concentrate or make decisions and complete tasks. This may look like failing to meet work deadlines or remembering to pay bills.
A man with depression may feel tired easily and find himself having headaches, digestive problems, and other unexplained pains. At night, he may find himself not sleeping well throughout the night or sleeping excessively. Poor sleep may make him more irritable and less able to regulate his emotional responses to the people around him.
Men with depression may find themselves losing interest and having little enjoyment of things they used to consider pleasurable activities, and that may include having a reduced sexual desire or experiencing a decline in sexual performance. They may find themselves feeling empty, hopeless, or sad, and having thoughts of suicide.
These experiences may be frustrating to the people in the life of a man who is struggling with a depressive episode, as he may not have the energy to play with his kids or enjoy time with them. The negative effects of depressive episodes on his cognitive abilities, such as delayed responses during conversations, may make talking to him a more involved process than usual.
What Depression Feels Like in Women
Females struggling with depression may find their moods affected. They may have increased irritability and feelings of sadness, anxiety, emptiness, and hopelessness. Their sleep will also be affected and deviate widely from what is considered normal, and they may find themselves losing interest in activities and withdrawing from social engagements.
Physically, females with depression may have decreased energy, increased fatigue, significant changes in appetite, changes in weight, pain, headaches, or increased cramping.
Mentally, women in the midst of a depressive episode can have decreased cognitive abilities. Their thinking will be affected so they process and talk slower than usual. Women with depression may also have suicidal ideation or thoughts and possibly take action against them.
Depression in Children, Teens, and Young Adults
Children with depression may cry more than usual and experience low levels of energy. This will often result in challenges in doing their school work and a decrease in enjoyment of social activities. They may become clingy and refuse to go to school or get into trouble at school.
Because younger children don’t typically have the vocabulary and emotional intelligence to name their feelings and express them in words, they may express their frustration in their behaviors such as vocal outbursts, anger outbursts, and defiant behavior.
Children enduring a depressive episode may also have times where their energy seems to fluctuate significantly and inability to attend to things typical for their age. Sometimes they may have thoughts of self-harm or death.
Teens and young adults who have depression may struggle to maintain social activities and/or lose interest in activities. This can lead to withdrawing from their friends and family.
Some teens and young adults continue to keep up an appearance of happiness during a depressive episode but are quick to withdraw and avoid deep/meaningful conversations. Cognitive difficulties may cause them to struggle to concentrate on their schoolwork, and they may find themselves feeling guilty, helpless, and/or worthless.
All these physical, emotional, and mental changes that occur during a depressive episode affect how he or she relates to others. People experiencing depression are not their typical selves. They can’t simply snap out of it and make things go back to normal during a depressive episode. Depression will often feel like a dark, weighted blanket that descends on a person, numbing his or her experience of the world and dulling their response to and enjoyment of it.
The good news about depression is that it is treatable. It may take several months for an individual to respond to treatment, and at times the treatments may need to be combined to be effective. But various treatments have proven to be effective in relieving the symptoms of depression for most people.
Those experiencing a depressive episode can practice self-care to alleviate some feelings of depression. Work toward improving one’s overall health by going to bed and waking up at the same time, using a comfortable sleeping environment, and stopping the use of electronic devices 1-2 hours prior to sleep is helpful in winding down and allowing the brain to settle. Eating a healthy diet as well as regular exercise will also elevate one’s mood and boost one’s well-being.
Community is an important aspect of support for those going through depression. Friends and family can walk alongside those going through to help alleviate symptoms of depression as well as simply walk alongside the individual while they journey toward healing and wholeness.
Face-to-face interactions with people, with the ability to discuss practical solutions, enjoy a listening ear, and/or participate in activities that allow the individual to actively engage in loving on or having fun with others are the most helpful.
These measures are just a few helpful ways to manage the symptoms of mild depression. However, they ought to be used in conjunction with checking in with a health professional like a primary care physician or a mental health counselor.
For mild and severe forms of depression, the use of psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, to address the possible triggers and causes of depression has been found to be helpful for many. It provides a neutral and supportive space for the individual to work on their healing journey. It is designed to help individuals cope with depression so that it doesn’t dictate day-to-day functioning. Some options for talk therapy include one-to-one or group counseling.
Therapists use a range of techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and other evidence-based treatments. In conjunction with psychotherapy, someone experiencing MDD may need to consider medication to support their success in managing depressive episodes.
A doctor may prescribe medications such as antidepressants that can help treat moderate to severe depression. These antidepressants are in several classes, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), tricyclic antidepressants, atypical antidepressants, and selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, it is likely affecting your life in significant ways. If you are a Christian struggling with symptoms of depression, this includes impacting your faith. The impact of depression on the Christian can overwhelm the ability to live by faith and feel like a stumbling block. You don’t have to walk alone, because you can lean on the expertise of a Christian counselor.
There is hope for depression. Reach out today to make an appointment with a mental health professional to start your healing journey.
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