We all feel down from time to time, and we might even use the word “depressed” to describe these moods. So what’s the difference between feeling depressed, and having depression? A depressed mood might last for hours or days (like any other mood), whereas depression* refers to significant feelings of sadness or a low mood that last longer than two weeks and start to get in the way of your everyday life.
Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for:
Sleeping for longer but still feeling tired? Struggling to get to sleep at all? Fatigue and changes in your sleep can be signs of depression.
Feeling sad, flat, or numb now and then is common, but if these feelings are hanging around for most of the day, nearly every day, it can be a sign of depression. Feeling irritable or annoyed most of the time can also be an indicator, particularly if it seems as though you’re getting really annoyed about things that you’d usually shrug off.
Food and appetite
While it’s common for our appetite to fluctuate depending on our routine, changes in appetite or eating habits can be related to depression (e.g. eating less or more than usual, or eating as a way to manage emotions).
Does getting out of bed or doing other routine tasks feel overwhelming or even just pointless? Low motivation and apathy/loss of meaning can be associated with depression. Some folks might notice they don’t enjoy things as much as they used to, and find it’s harder to work up the energy or motivation to do them.
We all need time alone to recharge our social batteries, and sometimes that might look like cancelling or not making plans with friends in favor of staying in and binging something on Netflix. However, withdrawing from your friends and family and spending a lot of time alone can be a warning sign for depression.
Depression can impact our thinking in a bunch of ways. You might find you have more difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and problem-solving, and you might noticing you’re get stuck on certain negative thoughts (going over and over them in your mind). Depression can distort our thinking, which means that we are more likely to interpret things negatively. For example, if a friend forgets to reply to a message, you might be more likely to interpret this as a reflection on you; “they don’t like me anymore/they think I’m boring”.
The way we think and feel about ourselves has a massive impact on our mental health. You might notice you’re being highly critical of yourself, for example fixating on small mistakes and giving yourself a really hard time. This might also look like getting frustrated at yourself for struggling to do things; your self-talk might sound something like “I’m so hopeless/lazy/worthless”. This can also be a sign we can notice in friends, as people sometimes say these things out loud about themselves as well as thinking about them.
I’m noticing some of these signs in myself/someone else, now what?
If you’ve noticed any of the changes above, chatting to your school/uni counsellor or organising to see your GP is a good idea to talk about what’s going on for you. If you’re noticing any of these things in a friend or family member, check out this post for some ideas on how you can chat to them about it.
What can I do to look after myself?
Life is full of ups and downs, and there are many things that impact our mood that we don’t have control over. We do have control over how we treat ourselves, and research shows that looking after our physical health and regularly doing things that we find enjoyable and relaxing can help us manage our stress and improve our mood. Getting enough sleep, food, and exercise is a great foundation, and it’s also vital to allow ourselves time to unwind, have fun, and connect with others. Self-care looks different for each of us, and here are some ideas for self-care to get you started.
If looking after yourself feels a bit uncomfortable or you’re not sure where to start, try talking to yourself like you would talk to a friend or loved one; with compassion! Here are some ideas for how you can respond to yourself (and others).
*This is a general description and not a substitute for seeking the advice of a mental health professional.
By Hilary Campbell
The Therapy Hub