Depression: Symptoms, types and management techniques

Do you feel hopeless, worthless, and disconnected from the people and pastimes you used to enjoy? Does getting through each day seem like a struggle? Do you believe you’re a failure and your self-esteem is non-existent?

If you do, you may be suffering from depression.

Depression is one of the most common but also the most treatable mental health conditions. Each year, over one million Australians experience depression and one in five people have experienced it at some time. With treatment, the vast majority of people improve significantly.

In order to begin to recover, you have to realise you have a condition. Just waiting for your mood to improve isn’t going to work. To manage depression, you need to take action and make positive changes.

Depression can feel hopeless when you’re experiencing it, but it is treatable

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that affects how you think, feel, and act.

It typically begins when people are in their late teens or twenties, but it can develop at any age. Women are more than twice as likely as men to be affected. You can have depression for a continuous period of time, or it can come and go throughout your life.

Depression has mental and physical symptoms that depend on your age and sex. The most common symptoms include:

Women:

  • Feeling irritable, sad, empty, anxious or hopeless
  • A loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, such as hobbies or types of entertainment
  • Not wanting to socialise
  • Thinking or talking more slowly
  • Trouble falling asleep, sleeping too much, sleepwalking, or waking up very early
  • Little energy or feeling fatigued
  • Sudden changes in appetite that lead to weight gain or loss
  • Aches and pains, headaches and cramps

Men:

  • Increased anger, irritability, aggressiveness, restlessness, anxiety and anxiousness
  • Feeling sad, empty or hopeless
  • No longer enjoying old hobbies
  • Thinking of suicide, typically paired with increased drinking, taking drugs, and/or engaging in high-risk activities
  • A loss of libido or difficulties preforming sexually
  • Difficulties completing tasks, trouble concentrating, and delayed responses in conversations
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Having headaches, pains, and digestive problems

Children have similar symptoms as adults. They also experience changes in their moods, which is usually characterised by intense sadness, believing they’re worthless and incapable, and crying. They can start avoiding others, begin getting into trouble at school, and have a decline in grades.

Some people with depression experience an emotionless non-feeling state where they struggle to engage with others and their surroundings. They’re listless, unable to concentrate on simple tasks like making a shopping list or reading a book and can’t imagine a future where they feel any better.

For some people, depression is suffocating. They feel like they’re thinking too much and always assuming the worst – a catastrophe is on its way, everyone is judging them, they’re a failure, and they should just give up.

Depression will make you think the worst about yourself, feel isolated, and like you can’t go on

Types of diagnoses

When diagnosing people with depression, there are two main types – Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD).

To receive a diagnosis of MDD, you must have consistently felt depressed and experienced symptoms for at least two straight weeks, while being unable to function normally.

PDD exhibits the same symptoms as MDD, but individuals experience them sporadically instead of on a daily basis. People who have PDD feel depressed the majority of the day, more days than not. To receive a diagnosis, adults must have experienced these feelings for two years, while children and adolescents need to have felt this way for one year. Many people with PDD don’t realise that they have a condition. They believe they just have a depressed personality or blame external factors such as their job and relationships, so they don’t seek treatment.

Depression disorders also vary in their severity.

Mild depression affects your mood and interferes with your usual activities. It’s difficult to diagnose as many people don’t think their symptoms are worth mentioning to a doctor. But it’s also the easiest form to treat. Developing a healthy lifestyle and challenging your negative thinking is often enough to significantly reduce the condition’s symptoms. This type of depression rarely needs medical intervention, but it won’t go away unless you take steps to manage it.

Moderate depression is more noticeable than mild depression. It causes problems at home and at work and can make interacting with people very challenging. Medications are sometimes prescribed and some people will get therapy or counselling to help manage their condition, in addition to making lifestyle changes.

Severe, or major depression is the most noticeable and intrusive form of depression. Your symptoms will be obvious to people who know you. Because major depression can lead to suicide, getting medical help at the onset of the illness is important. Doctors typically prescribe medications in addition to therapy or counselling.

Regardless of the severity of your symptoms, you should mention them to your doctor or a mental health professional. The sooner you realise you have depression, the earlier you can begin to improve.

Depression doesn’t improve on its own

Regardless of the cause or the severity of your depression, getting treatment is important. If left untreated, mild depression can become more severe. As you continue to think negatively, your depressive behaviour becomes more ingrained and difficult to stop even after you realise how harmful (and unnecessary) it is.

Living with untreated depression can lead to relationships breaking down as you change and struggle to interact with people. You could lose your job because you’re unable to show up or continue performing. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol for relief from their pain and develop a substance abuse disorder. You could even begin to self-harm or think of suicide because you believe life will never improve and become bearable.

Getting diagnosed with a mental health condition is often discouraging. But you can turn it into a cause for hope because you now understand where your emotions are coming from and have a path towards recovery. A diagnosis is like being shown what direction to head in when you’re lost – you’re still in the desert, but you know the way towards recovery.

With treatment you can begin to repair the damage depression has done

Improvement begins with living a healthy lifestyle

Overcoming depression takes a great deal of effort. When you’re depressed, you don’t want to do anything and have very little energy. But even when something like talking to a friend or going for a walk seems impossible, it’s important that you push yourself. The sort of activities that seem the most difficult are often the most helpful.

Sleep

Living a healthy lifestyle includes sleeping 7-9 hours per night. People who haven’t gotten enough sleep will feel more negative than someone who is well rested. Their bodies will also struggle to function as well as they should, causing low energy. Since people with depression often have low energy already, not getting healthy amount of sleep will make them feel even more exhausted.

Some people with depression tend to oversleep. If you get more than nine hours of sleep but don’t feel rested, this could be because you aren’t getting quality sleep, so your body tries to get enough by making you sleep longer. Without quality sleep, your body can’t make the repairs it needs to. Oversleeping can also cause biological changes in your body that cause depression.

Diet

A healthy diet helps improve your mental wellbeing. Although the connection between diet and mood is complex and still being studied, there is strong evidence that people with unhealthy diets are more likely to have depression.

The brain is an organ that needs nourishment. If it isn’t getting high quality foods rich in nutrients, it won’t be able to function properly. 95% of serotonin – a hormone that stabilises your mood – is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, so what you eat has a strong effect on your emotions. You may need to speak to a nutritionist to find out what the best diet is for you.

Exercise

Exercise is very important to managing depression and being healthy. Studies have shown that exercise can help reduce the symptoms of various mental health conditions – depression in particular.

When you exercise, your body produces serotonin and releases endorphins that improve your mood. Some people can replace antidepressants with exercise. Even if you have very little energy, you should push yourself to exercise. Physical activity has been shown to produce energy, so the more often you make the effort to work out, the more energy you’ll have.

Exercise is an investment in your wellbeing that affects your body, mind and spirit. As it becomes a habit, you’ll feel empowered and more in control because you’re making a conscious effort to take an action that will improve your mood and your health. You’ll also physically look and feel healthier, which can give you a strong boost in confidence.

Socialise

Depression is an isolating illness that can make the thought of being social seem impossible. But seeing people, or even staying in touch through social media, can help reduce your symptoms and make you feel less alone.

You don’t need to go to a friend expecting them to act as a therapist. You don’t even have to talk about your mental health to benefit from seeing someone. Just talking can help you to realise you aren’t so alone, so incompetent, or that life isn’t as bad as you convinced yourself it is.

Helping others also reduces the feelings of depression. Even if you believe you have nothing to give, doing your best to make a positive difference in the lives of others can be very helpful. You can look for volunteering opportunities in your area, like taking dogs from a shelter for a walk. You could also volunteer for a cause online; there are many groups that are always looking for support. You could raise awareness about the need to protect wildlife or advocate for international human rights from your own home.

Everyone can benefit from a healthy lifestyle, and people with depression have even more potential for improvement.

A healthy lifestyle will make a huge difference for many people with depression

Challenge your negative thinking

Depression can make you believe the worst, but your relentlessly negative thoughts aren’t yours – they’re caused by depression. Over time, thinking negatively becomes normal and you don’t even realise you’re doing it. But you can stop. Although it may not feel like it, you have control over your thoughts. Learning how to control them is a critical skill.

Recognising your negative ways of thinking is necessary to changing them. Some harmful types of thoughts include:

  • Believing your negative thoughts are true – “No one wants me in their lives.”
  • Calling yourself names and bringing yourself down – “I’m an idiot and a failure”
  • Criticising yourself for trying – “I should have never asked that friend over.”
  • Making assumptions about what people think about you – “They must think I look ridiculous.”
  • Believing you know the future – “I’ll never find a partner.”
  • Dismissing positivity – “Sure that date went well but I think they were just being nice.”
  • Ignoring your accomplishments – “I exercised every day this week but I ate too much junk food. I’m terrible at trying to have a healthy lifestyle.”

What negative things do you say to yourself?

Once you’ve started to notice your negative and unrealistic thinking for what it is, you must begin to challenge it. Ask yourself what proof you have that you’re right. How would you react to a friend saying that about themselves? Look for an alternative, more positive way of viewing the situation. And remember that your depression is making things seem worse than they really are.

Taking the time to analyse your negative thoughts will make you realise they aren’t realistic. You’ll develop a more balanced perspective and slowly begin to feel less depressed.

You can begin doing this on your own, but it would be much easier with the help of a trained professional. Mental health professionals are familiar with methods for changing your thought patterns to become more positive. They can identify harmful habits and suggest ways to correct your behaviour that you probably wouldn’t have noticed or thought of. Working on your own means using trial and error with very little, if any, guidance to discover the best methods for you.

Many of the negative effects depression causes can be overcome by challenging and changing your thoughts

Professional treatment

With treatment, 80-90% of people are less affected by their symptoms, and many eventually overcome their condition. One of the most common and effective methods is talk therapy.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a popular form of talk therapy that is used to treat depression. It focuses on resolving current problems, rather than exploring the past to look for their cause. This allows people with depression to recognise which of their beliefs are caused by depression and are unrealistic – such as thinking their parents or partner believe they’re a failure when they’re actually loving and supportive. They can then develop new thought and behaviour patterns to challenge and change these negative beliefs into positive ones.

In order for talk therapy to be effective, you must be willing to be open and honest about your feelings and put in the work while sticking to the recovery plan you made. Otherwise, you won’t be able to change.

Find a purpose

If depression is making you feel hopeless and disconnected, find a purpose that will give you hope for the future. Purpose and hope are critical to breaking out of depression.

To figure out what your purpose can be, ask yourself what would motivate you to get up in the morning or what is something you could see yourself looking forward to? Some people benefit greatly from having a pet – they rely on you for their care without ever judging you. Your purpose could be working towards a goal, like being able to hike a challenging trail. You could start a project, like writing a cookbook. Your purpose doesn’t need to impress others, it just needs to be meaningful to you.

Your purpose and motivation to work on improving each day can’t be defined by others – what’s inspiring to one person is frustrating or boring to another. You need to find out what will make you feel like a benefit will come out of your actions. Depression makes everything seem uninteresting and pointless, so you’ll have to step outside of yourself to figure out what you should work on.

Feeling improvement takes time and can feel useless at first, but managing a mental health condition requires patience and is always worth the effort.

Finding ways to feel less depressed can take time an require trial and error, but if you’re persistent you can discover what works for you

You can stop feeling depressed

Depression can be managed and often overcome, regardless of the severity of your condition.

It won’t happen overnight, and learning to manage your symptoms can take a great deal of dedication and effort. But spending this time and energy to become more positive, energetic, and confident is worth the effort it takes. You’ll be able to get more out of life and feel more engaged in the world around you.

You don’t need to learn how to do this on your own. I’m a trained counsellor with experience helping people learn how to manage depression and make positive changes in their lives.

If you’re feeling depressed – because of a mental health condition or following a loss or trauma – I encourage you to get in touch with me. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

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