Recognizing the signs of depression

You should know the signs and symptoms of depression!

It was with great sadness that I heard about the death of Robin Williams by apparent suicide. He was one of those actors who was good at everything, from TV sitcoms to stand-up to drama. I was never disappointed as a fan. His death is tragic in many ways — it reminds us that even when it appears someone “has it all together,” the very real fact may be that they don’t.

I lost a friend earlier this year, also to apparent suicide. While not a public profile comedian and actor as Robin Williams, his suicide came as a similar shock to his family and friends. If you had known him or talked to him, you would never have known he was suffering from depression or any other illness that made him decide that taking his life was the only answer.

Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In 2012, an estimated 16 million adults age 18 and older in U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Depression is more common in women than in men, but men with depression are more likely to abuse alcohol and other substances. Men suffering from depression may also try to mask their sadness by turning to other outlets, such as playing sports, watching TV, working excessively or engaging in risky behaviors, according to Jill Goldstein, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of research at the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Men experiencing depression are also likely to go longer without diagnosis or treatment, as it is often harder for others to recognize the symptoms in men.

Depression is more than just severe sadness. Many suffering from depression may not show outward signs or symptoms of depression, but those who do may not experience the same symptoms, severity, frequency and duration of symptoms as others.

Signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, including insomnia or early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, hurting yourself or others
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease with treatment

Suicide warning signs:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

There are ways to help if you believe a loved one is suffering from depression or you notice the signs and symptoms.

  • Encourage them to seek help from a professional. Insist that medical care is needed for healing and help your loved one realize that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Surround your loved one with a caring network. “Depression can build walls around a person until they feel so totally encased that they seek release and their relief in ways that only make sense to them. Loved ones must prevent the person from feeling totally alone and isolated,” says Ron Oliver, Norton Health System Vice President, Mission and Outreach.
  • Let them know you care for them and offer to help with things they find overwhelming.
  • Don’t judge.  Depression distorts one’s sense of why things happen the way they do. Depression causes someone to feel that all of life is against them. There is no easy reply to these perceptions – a deeply depressed person is not likely to be convinced that they are wrong. Don’t get angry with them because they “don’t get it” or see life the way you do.
  • Seek spiritual support for yourself. Gather others around you for prayer and support. Seek help learning about the many resources in the community to help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK (8255)



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