Almost everyone feels blue from time to time. Dealing with death, the loss of a job or the dissolution of a marriage can be distressing, and people commonly respond with feelings of sadness and loss. Over time, as the pain fades and so does the sadness. Feeling sad is a completely normal part of the human experience. But for some people, feelings if sadness linger and are severe, persistent and debilitating.
This type of sadness is actually a form of depression. Without treatment the condition can deepen and grow so severe, the person becomes nearly unable to get through the day. While depression like this may sound serious and scary, there is good news.
With the right treatment, depression can be managed and the person struggling can return to a normal life. Understanding depression and the need for a proper diagnosis and treatment are the first steps to getting help.
Depression Risk Factors
Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about two percent of adults can be classified with major depression. The disorder can also strike children and the elderly.
While almost anyone can get depression at any time, there are some risk factors for major depression, including:
- A personal or family history of depression
- Major life changes, trauma or stress
- Certain physical illnesses and medications1
People who abuse alcohol and drugs are also at a greater risk for developing depression. It’s unclear whether the depression causes the person to use alcohol, or the alcohol use leads to depression. People with a family history of alcoholism are at greater risk for depression, so it’s possible that the two conditions share the same genetic basis.2
Some people develop major depression after experiencing a terrifying event, such as a war, an earthquake or a violent attack. Other people develop depression during a transition to a new part of life. Becoming a parent, getting divorced or watching children leave the home could all trigger a depressive episode.
Signs and Symptoms
People who are experiencing depression often report that the disorder places a sort of film over their eyes, changing the entire way that they view the world and the people around them. They may feel as though everything that happens to them is bad or negative, and they may be convinced that the situation will never change.
- Seem distracted or unable to concentrate
- Sleep more or less than usual
- Refuse to do the activities that once brought them pleasure
- Gain or lose weight
- Express feelings of hopelessness
- Seem sluggish and slow2
People with depression may hold down jobs and participate in relationships, but they may seem as though they are living underwater. They go to work, sit quietly at their desks, and head back home to bed when the workday is through. They may not answer the phone, read the paper, play sports or participate in any sort of pleasurable activity. Just getting through the day is exhausting.
Less Obvious Signs
Men and older people might exhibit signs that are slightly different than the typical symptoms of depression. Instead of seeming quiet and slow, they may seem excitable and angry. Although he may feel isolated and alone, he might actively push loved ones away. The person might seem irritable and hostile, constantly reacting with anger or yelling, or be agitated, pacing and wringing his hands. Although these behaviors might seem like the exact opposite of depression, the person struggling may actually be leaving clues as a way to ask for help.
Some people with depression may visit their doctor for help, since depression can manifest with physical symptoms that can become debilitating. At these visits depression, although the root cause of the symptoms, may not be discussed. That means the person struggling can leave the appointment without getting the help he or she needs.
People experiencing major depression can also show signs of reduced cognitive function. They have trouble remembering information and have a hard time making decisions. Without the ability to think clearly and make needed changes, they may be unable to change the course of the illness.
Living With Depression
Living with someone who is depressed can be difficult. The person might seem angry, upset or even abusive, and you may have no idea what has caused the change. Teens who are struggling with depression may seem sullen or hopeless, vacillating between wanting your help and pushing you away.3
Helping a parent with depression can also be difficult. It can be hard for adult children to approach their parents and have a frank talk about something so private. In addition, our culture suggests that adults should be depressed or upset about growing older, so adult children may not consider depression in their parents to be abnormal or cause for concern.
The family can seem strained and relationships can be pushed to the breaking point. That’s why getting help is so important, both for the depressed person and for those who care about that person. Through treatment, the whole family can heal.
A Word About Suicide
Feeling hopeless, helpless and weak for long periods of time can lead to thoughts of suicide. The person may feel as though death is the only way to make the symptoms stop. She may also and believe the world would be a better place without her.
- Behave recklessly, running yellow lights and walking in front of moving cars
- Give away cherished possessions
- Move from being low and depressed to seeming happy and cheerful
- Talk about feeling trapped or hopeless
- Tell people goodbye4
These suicidal thoughts should be considered medical emergencies, as depressed people could act upon these ideas at a moment’s notice. If your loved one exhibits these suicide warning signs, call 911 right away.
Finding Help for Depression
Depression is a serious mental illness that can be successfully treated. If your or a loved one is struggling with depression, we are here for you. Call our helpline 24 hours a day to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options. You are not alone. Call (877) 345-1887 now.
1 “Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed Aug. 21, 2018.
2 “Depression Basics.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2016.
3 “Teen Depression.” WebMD, WebMD. Accessed Aug. 24, 2018.
4 “Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 May 2018.