Depression is a devastating condition that can take over your entire life. It is easily one of the most misunderstood conditions that affect our mental and physical health. Depression is more than just feeling sad. It is not just the blues. It is the result of a complex interaction between the chemicals and the brain. Depression can affect sleeping, eating, working, relationships - in fact, it can affect all aspects of your life.
Depression will affect close to10% of the population at one point or another in their lives. That's about 19 million people in the United States alone. About 80% to 90% of those who seek treatment for depression feel better within two to three weeks, and continue with their lives. Unfortunately, about two thirds of those suffering from depression never seek treatment for a variety of reasons.
One of the biggest reasons that people fail to seek treatment for depression is that they fail to recognize the symptoms, or even to realize that anything is wrong. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression can literally save your life or the life of a family member. These are the top five warning signs that someone you know may be suffering from depression.
1. Decreased interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
This is a symptom of depression that is often overlooked or misinterpreted. A person who is suffering from depression loses interest in activities that they have previously enjoyed. They may stop attending meetings or drop out of clubs to which they have belonged for years. If questioned, they will often simply say that they've lost interest, or don't enjoy the activity any longer. Associates and friends often don't recognize this as a symptom of depression, and may even feel hurt or angry with their friend for the slight.
Interestingly, recent research suggests that social contact stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain that help stabilize moods and produce happy feelings. It's one of the reasons that social activities are often part of the recommended treatment for depression.
2. A change in eating habits
Those suffering from depression will often change their eating habits. There are many reasons for this change, and not all apply in all cases. A depressed person may feel that it is too much trouble to bother with eating at all. Food may lose its appeal entirely, or they may turn to snack and junk foods because they require less effort to prepare. In turn, those who are depressed may show marked increases or decreases in weight.
Because nutrition appears to have a major effect on mental and emotional outlook, these changes in appetite can have a further debilitating effect on the depression, triggering a deepening spiral or cycle of depression. Encouraging proper eating habits and good nutrition can help alleviate the symptoms of depression.
3. Frequent headaches, stomachaches and other physical symptoms
Depression is often accompanied by physical symptoms, including headaches and stomachaches, muscle pains and other pain. While it's easy to assume that the pains are "all in your head", the fact is that they're not.
When you're depressed, your brain and body produce too much or too little of various chemicals. Those imbalances can result in the aches and pains that are characteristic of depression. Treating the depression can diminish all the symptoms, including the headaches, stomachaches and other pains.
4. Fatigue and/or insomnia
Sleep is another area of life that is often disrupted during depression. The disruption can take the form of insomnia and an inability to sleep, or it may take the form of excess sleep. A person suffering from depression may find themselves feeling tired all the time, or taking naps when they typically don't. Insomnia may keep the person up at night, leading to fatigue during the day. These symptoms may show up as waking up too early, waking during the night, or falling asleep during the day.
The inability to sleep can also deepen depression as the body is unable to renew the supplies of chemicals that the brain needs to function properly. Instating healthy sleep patterns is another way to help alleviate the symptoms of depression, but again, it may be necessary to treat the depression before it is possible to start sleeping well again.
5. Thoughts of hopelessness, harming oneself or suicide
The most telling and clear sign of depression are thoughts of hopelessness and/or of harming oneself. If you find yourself feeling worthless, believing that there is no use in trying to do things, or thinking of harming yourself or killing yourself, you need to get help immediately.
If someone you love is struggling with these feelings, they are not just feeling blue or being dramatic. Recognizing these thoughts and words as what they are, a sign of a serious depression can literally save their lives.