Clinical depression is perhaps one of the most misunderstood illnesses in our society today. It’s a term that is thrown around a lot in response to things like breakups, unexpected life changes or any number of minor tragedies we might experience in life. But in truth, these low moods, while serious, are not the same as suffering from depression. And it’s all the more difficult to deal with because many people don’t even realise they are experiencing depression.
But how do you tell the difference? And more importantly, what can you do to help yourself (and others), if you’re struggling with low moods or depression?
What are Low Moods and Depression?
We all have periods in our life when we feel down. It could be in response to something happening in your life – like the breakup of a relationship, the loss of a loved one or a change in circumstance. Or it could be for seemingly no reason at all. Whatever the cause, low moods can be disruptive to our daily lives, while depression can range from being disruptive to causing significant problems. But what is the difference between a low mood, and suffering from depression?
These definitions aren’t all-encompassing, but generally:
Low Moods: A period when mood is low and you’re feeling sad or unhappy about life. These feelings usually pass over time and you return to feeling normal.
Depression: Clinical depression is a bit different. It’s defined as a low mood that lasts for weeks or months, and it affects your daily life.
Anyone can get low, but someone is generally considered to be suffering from depression when those feelings don’t go away quickly, or become so bad that they have an impact on your daily life. In severe cases, depression can stop you being able to complete simple daily tasks, even down to showering or cooking food for yourself. Milder forms of depression can just mean being in low spirits, while more severe depression can make your life very difficult to manage.
The Signs of Depression
From the outside it can be difficult to tell if someone is struggling with depression. Because while some people might appear sad, down and actively withdrawing from daily life, other people seem perfectly normal and happy. A modern example of that would be Robin Williams, who despite appearing to be one of the happiest, most cheerful people, was struggling with depression behind closed doors.
It’s made even more complicated by the fact that the signs of depression can be different in men and women, and the way each gender responds to and handles depression and low moods can also vary wildly. However, there are some factors that are common to many people who experience depression, so if you, or someone you know is displaying several of the following, it might be time to talk about what you can do to help.
Loss of Appetite: While going on a diet is a fairly normal thing, a total lack of desire for food is not, and it’s one of the more common signs of depression. If your favourite food might as well be boiled cardboard for all the interest you have for it now, then something’s going on. It also doesn’t help that poor nutrition can contribute to deepening depression, and so a lack of appetite can make things go from bad to worse.
Risky Behaviours: When someone thinks they have nothing to lose, taking bigger risks somehow doesn’t seem like a bad thing. This is one of the reasons that depression and substance abuse are so commonly found together – between the self-medication and the increased risk, alcohols, painkillers and illegal narcotics become less problematic for people with depression. If you notice someone taking more risks than usual, it’s a good sign to check in.
Retreating from Normal Activities: If there are things in your life you used to love doing, but now don’t enjoy, you could very well be suffering from depression. Anything from a beloved hobby to socialising and even your sex drive can be hit by depression, and struggling to find joy in things you used to enjoy is always a warning sign.
Fatigue, Insomnia & Lack of Concentration: As with so many depression signs, most people suffer from them at some point in their lives, and they can be caused by anything from depression to a viral infection to worrying about your bank fees. But if these symptoms persist for a long time, or continue to get worse, then it’s a good sign that something is wrong.
How Does it Happen?
Low moods can be caused by all sorts of things, but they are usually as the result of some sort of negative event, like the ones we have listed above. Low mood is often situational, and are relieved when the situation is resolved, or the issue has been processed properly. However, they can happen for no reason at all, and go away for the same reason.
Unfortunately, there is no single cause for depression. It can happen for a variety of reasons and has many different triggers, or nothing at all. For some people an upsetting or stressful life event such as bereavement, divorce, illness, redundancy or money worries can be the cause. But different causes can also combine to trigger depression, which is why many people talk about a ‘downward spiral’ into depression. For example, if your relationship with your partner breaks down, you’re likely to feel low, you may stop seeing friends and family, and you may start drinking more. All of this can make you feel worse and trigger depression.
And sometimes, it’s a biological thing. You can be genetically predisposed to depression, especially if you have low levels of monoamines (mainly noradrenaline and serotonin), which is inherited. You can also have problems with the production of dopamine and serotonin for all sorts of reasons, which put you at increased risk for depression. These causes can sometimes be helped with medication to balance out your hormones, but not always.
How To Get Further Support
Depression is an incredibly challenging thing to deal with for anyone. But with the right support structure and the right tools, it can become manageable. This blog is designed to help you understand what depression is, and to recognise what some of the symptoms and triggers might be. If you would like support from a professional therapist please take a look at our virtual clinic all our our therapists provide free consultations to ensure it is the right fit for you before you commit. There are also lots of tools and techniques available on our Melp App which has a free 30 day trial, so nothing to lose and mental wellness to gain!