Depression affects a record-breaking 16.2 million US adults, and as many have suggested, depression isn’t only on the rise, but has rather recently become a topic we’ve been engrossed with, revealing that more and more Americans are reporting feelings of depression, starting a much-needed unveiling of a previously taboo topic.
While it is one of the more common mental illnesses, depression still only affects about 7% of the US adult population. This means that most people don’t know what depression feels like, or what their loved ones might be going through. Being sad and struggling with a mood disorder are two separate things, but there are a lot of parallels to draw that can help families and friends provide the support that their loved ones need.
If you’re worried that you’re struggling with depression or have recently been diagnosed with a depressive disorder, you may be wondering what lies ahead. More than just “feeling sad”, depression can have a profound and debilitating effect on the lives of kids, teens, and adults alike. That effect can spread to friends and family, and without adequate treatment, misunderstandings and frustrations can fuel a cascade of related issues and unnecessary complications.
What is Depression?
Depressive disorders are characterized by a consistent low mood lasting longer than two weeks, usually unprovoked. That means that if someone is feeling down for half a month after the loss of a loved one, they may be struggling with complicated grief rather than depression. However, the loss of a loved one or a similarly traumatic event can be the catalyst for a person’s first depressive episode.
Most people who are diagnosed with depression may struggle with a form of depression for several weeks, and while it is considered a life-long disorder, it comes and goes. For some people, however, the mood stays consistently low for months and years, also known as a persistent depressive disorder. Others yet experience depressive thoughts specifically tied to certain other phenomenon, such as hormonal changes during menstruation.
The other commonly-known mood disorder is bipolar disorder, which is a form of depression that also involves episodes of mania or hypomania. Rather than rapidly switching between moods, these episodes tend to last weeks or months. People with a bipolar disorder may be highly motivated and hyperactive for a long period of time, before crashing and withdrawing from others for months.
The severity of a depression changes from person to person and can be heavily affected by circumstance. A depressed person may be more susceptible to certain emotional pain, and suicidal ideation is not uncommon. Depressive disorders can also show up in conjunction with other disorders. Most often, people who struggle with more than one mental illness and are depressed usually struggle with anxiety as their codependent disorder. Only an estimated 1 in 5 people receive effective, consistent treatment for their depression.
One of the first effects of depression on everyday life is the distinct lack of motivation. That doesn’t just mean that depression kills your mood to go bake some holiday cookies or hit the gym despite waves of Christmas cheer. Depression saps away the motivation to do some of the most “basic things”, from personal hygiene to getting out of bed in the morning.
This leads to all other things suffering. It becomes harder and harder to fall asleep, harder, and harder to wake up on time, get dressed, find the time and motivation to fix together some food, or clean the house. This lack of motivation permeates through all facets of life, heavily affecting your efficiency, and causing a spiral of issues. As your life slows down as a result of depression, so does your ability to function in any capacity as an adult.
Struggling with Deadlines
Another common facet of depression is chronic procrastination. While this is common in anxiety as well, depression can cause a person to lose the motivation to get the things done that need to be done – until the very last moment, when panic grips. The more we analyze procrastination and laziness, the more we realize that most people who exhibit one, the other, or both, simply struggle massively in the time management department, and at times this is due to mental health problems.
We’ve established that depression robs you of the motivation to do the things you have to do, and thus they pile up – but it can also kill your sense of time or cause you to lose time to other activities that you might be engaging in as a way to cope with your depression. We all find ways to cope, some healthier than others. Coping mechanisms that rob you of your sleep or cause you to lose hours of the day – such as Internet surfing, video gaming, or an addiction to porn – massively damage your ability to be productive in the day hours. This leads to late projects at school and at work and struggles with remaining consistent and reliable for others.
Making Others Worry
Aside from a myriad of life-altering changes, depression also brings another element to the table – trouble with family and friends. It can be difficult to maintain and manage relationships when experiencing a consistently low mood. To most who have no experience with depression, this is endlessly frustration. Someone with depression will struggle to maintain conversations, show any level of enthusiasm, or actively engage with others and show up to events, meet-ups, or celebrations. They might be met with “buzz-kill”, “why the long face all the time?” or a series of much more hurtful sentences.
Others might recognize the warning signs for what they are and jump in to help. But few people have the experience necessary to realize that help doesn’t actually always help. Being there for someone who is depressed is important, but it’s not something that is obviously reciprocated, and even if things improve, they can go back to being worse at times. The depressive rollercoaster is one no one wants to ride, and not many friends are up for the pressure that can accompany supporting someone through a serious depressive episode.
All this can culminate in an even worse feeling afterward. It’s one thing to be down on yourself all the time, but to sense how that affects others isn’t in any way motivating, but actively pulls you down even further.
Feeling the Body Change
With depression come a series of other changes, including physical ones. The lack of motivation to exercise or prepare good food can lead to worsening physical health, rapid weight loss or weight gain, poor health due to late hours and several “crunch times” to make up for lost work, and other stress-related health effects.
Getting the Help You Need
Like other illnesses, depression is treatable. A person with depression is still a whole person, capable of living full lives filled with happiness, love, and normal sadness. But they’re also sick and need help. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.
But it’s important to get help right now. If you’re not seeking help for your condition, do not wait. The sooner depression is addressed, the easier it is to help someone get their life back. In fact, better than that, depression treatment can help you make your life better than it ever was.
That might be impossible to believe right now, but in time you’ll see that learning to trust others, ask for help, and rely not only on yourself but the support of those who unconditionally love you will be one of the most important lessons you’ll ever receive.