It can sneak up on you – the feeling of a dark cloud, an existential sense of dread, drowning in a spiral of negative thoughts, and feeling sad, numb, or hopeless.
Depression doesn’t discriminate. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S., affecting 21 million adults in 2021.
What is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that causes severe symptoms that affect the way a person thinks, feels, and conducts themselves daily. To be diagnosed, symptoms need to be present for two weeks. Symptoms can include:
- A persistent sad or numb mood.
- A sense of hopelessness.
- Loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies or activities.
- Changes in eating habits.
- Sleeping too little or too much and still feeling tired.
- Being withdrawn or isolating yourself from loved ones.
“Depression doesn’t have to be a crippling feeling of sadness,” says Andrea Plasko, a licensed therapist and social worker. “Clients often tell me they don’t feel like themselves or they’re feeling empty and numb.”
Depression isn’t something you can simply “get over.” You can’t just flip a switch and choose to be happy. Depression can be debilitating and asking for help can make you feel incredibly vulnerable. In fact, the stigma around mental illness and depression can make it hard for some people to seek treatment. But doing so can improve your mental well-being so you can enjoy life again.
What should you do if you think you’re depressed?
Talk to your primary care providers, psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. A physician may prescribe antidepressants to help manage and lessen depression symptoms in some people. Therapy is also effective either by itself or combined with medication. Talking with a licensed professional can help you:
- Identify life events that are contributing to depression.
- Challenge negative thoughts and attitudes and reframe those behaviors to improve functioning.
- Learn strategies to cope with problems and symptoms.
“Treating depression is often about creating a safe space for the person to feel heard and openly talk about their feelings,” says Plasko. “People often hold back with their friends and family because they don’t want to be a burden. It’s a different dynamic with a licensed professional.”
How can you help a loved one who may have depression?
Some people may hide their symptoms from friends and family. They’re considered high-functioning and have mastered putting a “mask” on, going out into the world, and keeping a smile on their face while pretending everything is fine. Once they’re in the safety of their home, however, their mask falls off.
It can be hard to detect depression in loved ones who hide their condition. But there are ways to encourage open conversation.
“Instead of asking ‘how are you?’ ask, ‘what’s something you want me to know about your day? What’s a feeling you had today that you want me to know about?’” says Plasko. “It can help them open up. The brief check-in also lets them know that they’re not alone, you care about them, and you’re there for them if they ever want to talk.”
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