Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the world, but its signs and symptoms can be elusive. Here’s when to talk to a doctor.
Depression is one of the most common disorders worldwide, affecting more than 300 million people according to the World Health Organization. Despite its prevalence, depression remains stigmatized. There are many potential causes and risks for developing depression, including traumatic life events, stress or genetics. However, anyone can get depression — even if they’re otherwise healthy, well-employed, and have a strong network of social support.
While brief periods of sadness and grief can be healthy emotional responses, in depression they are longer-lasting. That can affect cognitive function, and more broadly, it can get in the way of day-to-day life.
When someone experiences multiple symptoms almost every day for two weeks, they may be diagnosed with major depressive disorder. In some cases, these symptoms may indicate stress or other issues going on in life. If these symptoms go untreated, it can lead to a lot of other problems in life, whether it be in people’s careers, relationships or physical health.
If you experience many of the symptoms listed below, it may be time to talk with a physician or specialist.
What does depression look like?
You feel exhausted and find it hard to get out of bed in the morning.
Depression may start off seemingly as innocuous, as a few bouts of fatigue. This isn’t simply being tired as most people normally are just as they wake up, but a feeling that you are physically unable to get up. People may start having trouble waking up and staying alert in the morning. They may remain sleepy and exhausted throughout the rest of the day.
You constantly feel numb, sad or lonely.
Many people with depression will experience a very deep empty feeling, sadness or loneliness. Sometimes, it may also present as apathy — the inability to feel any strong emotions such as joy or excitement.
You become uncharacteristically irritable and find it harder to focus.
There are many cognitive symptoms associated with depression. Many people begin to feel more inattentive and irritable and experience some form of brain fog or impairment. It can suddenly become hard to focus on reading a book, watching a television show or staying on task at work.
You are either sleeping too much or too little.
In part due to fatigue and other symptoms, someone with depression will experience some form of sleep disruption. Most commonly, depression presents as insomnia or sleeping much longer than usual.
You begin losing interest in the things you cared about.
Slowly, someone with depression will begin to neglect their hobbies and relationships. Due to the fatigue, apathy and brain fog, it becomes harder to enjoy or care about the things that interested you in the past.
Talking to a doctor about depression
A doctor should provide you with a listening ear. After learning about your symptoms, they may reach a diagnosis of depression or another mental health condition.
Often, they will recommend seeing a therapist that can help you build resilience and work through depression. Sometimes, they may refer you to another specialist called a psychiatrist who may prescribe medication to work in tandem with your therapy.
“Resiliency is our natural trajectory,” Craig Sawchuk, a psychologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota told The New York Times in 2020. “It doesn’t mean we’re unscathed or that we bounce back to exactly where we were. But we can get to a better place than we’re at right at the moment.” In line with this thinking, a recent study found that many patients not only recover after their mental health symptoms are treated, but can continue to excel and thrive in life afterward.
Just because you are experiencing depression does not mean that life will not get better. As with most health problems, depression is treatable, and a good first step is speaking with a healthcare provider.