Understanding Depression: Unraveling the Complex Web of Emotions.
“Most days I wake up dreading the day ahead. I don’t want to get out of bed, do anything, and live my life. I just want to stay balled up under the sheets, do nothing but browse on my phone all day. I don’t want to work. I don’t want to interact with people. I don’t want to do anything. I just want to lay in bed, sleep, browse, and sleep. I feel like there’s nothing worth doing in this life. Nothing’s worth pursuing. Everything feels meaningless. I just hate everything about this life. And I’m tired of it… ”
– A person describing how depression feels
We all go through different phases, feel different emotions, and experience different sensations. It’s the ebbs and flows of life. Sometimes we feel good, and sometimes, we don’t. Some days we’re happy, some days it’s meh, and sometimes it’s gloomy and sad. It’s natural to go through all these emotions.
But when our thoughts, feelings, and emotions get stuck in a negative loop, that becomes an issue because it becomes harmful to us and the people around us. Usually, prolonged feelings of negative emotions – sadness, emptiness, and dread – can be considered depression.
In this article, we’ll help you understand this emotional state better.
What is depression?
Depression is a serious mental issue that affects roughly 9.3 per cent of Australians. The Australian Psychological Society defines it as “an emotional state where sadness, low mood, or a sense of ‘emptiness’ is prolonged lasting weeks, months and sometimes years”. It’s estimated that 1 in 6 people will experience depression at least once in their life.
All of us experience negative emotions like sadness, loneliness, and emptiness. But usually, they’re fleeting emotions. And they’re something we can address easily.
When we feel sad, we can eat our comfort food, binge on comedy, and get a good night’s sleep waking up feeling better. When we’re lonely, we can talk to a friend and feel connected again.
But depression doesn’t work like that. You can do all the nice things, talk to all the people you love, but you’ll still end up feeling sad, lonely, and empty.
And it might feel like there’s no end to it.
How do I know if I have depression?
The common symptoms of depression.
Most people associate depression with the feeling of extreme sadness. But in reality, it’s more than just feeling sad and gloomy. There are a lot of thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations that are related to this issue that many people don’t know about.
- Low mood, sadness, or emptiness that lasts for days or longer.
- Lack of the will or motivation to live. Feeling like nothing matters.
- Loss of interest in activities, hobbies, and interactions.
- Constant thoughts of self-harm, personal injuries, or accidents.
- Repeated thoughts of ending one’s life, dying naturally or in an accident.
The lesser-known symptoms of depression.
- Anger, irritability, and a short fuse. Getting angry and emotional over something insignificant.
- Changes in sleeping pattern (sleeping too little or too much).
- Changes in appetite (eating too little or too much).
- Always feeling tired, sluggish, and fatigued.
- Brain fog, forgetfulness, and trouble concentrating.
- Feelings of sleepwalking through life.
- Low self-esteem, feeling worthless, and fixating on mistakes and negative experiences.
- Unexplained body pains like headache, muscle pain, and joint pain.
Seeing a combination of these symptoms in yourself or your loved ones might indicate that you or they are struggling with depression. And it’s important to seek help if these symptoms persist longer or if thoughts or acts of self-harm are already present.
Why do people get depressed?
Originally, doctors believed that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. It happens when our body doesn’t produce enough positive hormones (dopamine and serotonin).
But further research shows that chemical imbalance isn’t the only thing that’s causing depression. Instead, it’s a variety of factors around us. Things like external events, past trauma, upbringing, or genetics.
Here are the most common reasons why people get depressed.
Latest studies show that some people are more likely to get depressed because of their genetics. It shows that specific genes may be associated with an increased risk of depression. These genes play a role in regulating mood, emotions, and the brain’s response to stress.
This means that if your parents, siblings, or any close relative have suffered or experienced depression, there’s a likelihood that you can be a candidate for it too.
However, it’s important to note that genetics are not the sole determining factor in the development of depression.
Our brain’s interpretation of the world.
Researchers discovered that people with depression see the world differently. Their brains process events with a bias towards negativity. So even when an event is not depressing for most people, it can trigger depression for some.
This one’s a bit complicated. So I’ll try to make it clearer with an example.
A group of people are laid off by their company due to the economy. Some employees would be angry at the company and the government. While some would accept it as an event they have no control over. Others would see it as an opportunity to pursue something else. While others would see it as an “attack” to their competence and self-worth. And these people would be the ones who are more likely to get depressed.
This one’s related to the point above. As we grow up, our parents and teachers teach us a certain perspective on how we see the world. They shape how we perceive certain events. And as adults, these ways of seeing the world become the lens through which we view the things that happen to us.
For example, as a child, we didn’t understand what failure is. It’s our parents who explained it to us. So for some, failure is seen as a way to learn and grow. While for others, it means incompetence and not being good enough. And in these two lenses, the second one might contribute to low self-esteem, which can trigger depression.
Other causes of depression are extreme life experiences like the unexpected loss of a loved one, physical or mental abuse, or traumatic experiences. These events can leave a lasting impact on our lives and can trigger a depressive episode later in life.
Our life experiences.
This is why dealing with grief, abuse, and trauma, especially in children, is important.
Some studies point out that our lifestyles can also be the leading cause of depression. If we have poor daily habits, it can cause a chemical imbalance which could trigger a depressive episode.
Some dangerous habits that might cause depression are:
- Lack of sunlight (vitamin D)
- Lack of movement and exercise
- Unhealthy diet
- Poor sleeping habits
- Too much social media usage
Prevention & Treatment of Depression.
Preventing depression involves a combination of addressing biological factors, psychological factors, and environmental elements. While it’s not always possible to prevent depression entirely, there are several strategies that can reduce its risk and mitigate its severity:
Maintain social connections.
Loneliness can lead to depression. Stay connected with loved ones and friends, and join support groups or community events.
Regular exercise can boost your mood by releasing endorphins. Aim for activities you enjoy, even if it’s just walking.
Consuming a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can have protective effects on mental health.
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Establish a bedtime routine, maintain a consistent sleep schedule, and make your sleeping environment conducive to rest.
Avoid alcohol and drugs.
Substance use can increase the risk of depression and make it more difficult to treat.
Utilise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. Also, consider counselling or therapy to develop coping skills.
Limit negative influences.
Consider limiting exposure if you find certain relationships or media consumption patterns contribute to a negative mindset.
Don’t overcommit yourself, and ensure you allocate time for self-care.
Engage in social activities, even if they’re virtual. Being part of a community or group can provide support and a sense of belonging.
Regular checkups with your GP.
Some medical conditions or medications can cause symptoms of depression. Regular check-ups can catch these early.
Be cautious of excessive exposure to news or other sources of negative information. Cultivate a positive environment around you.
Reduce caffeine and stimulants.
Reduce or eliminate the consumption of caffeine, nicotine, and certain over-the-counter medications that can aggravate anxiety.
Set realistic expectations.
Be patient with yourself and set achievable goals.
While these strategies can help in preventing or mitigating depression, they’re not foolproof. Individual factors such as genetics and significant life stressors can still make someone susceptible. If you or someone you know shows signs of depression, seeking professional help early can make a significant difference.
How is depression treated?
Mental health professionals use different modes of treatment. It depends on a variety of things they learn from the person seeking help during an initial assessment. But typically, it entails a combination of psychological treatments and lifestyle change recommendations. In more extreme cases, medications might be considered.
When should I go to therapy?
Therapy is one of the most effective ways to treat depression. Ideally, it’s important to seek help as soon as you notice that your low mood, sadness, and negative emotions have persisted for more than a week. And you’re also seeing a combination of the symptoms mentioned above. Riding it out for too long or ignoring it would make it more difficult to address.
Depression and seeking help is not something you should be ashamed of. It’s a naturally occurring illness like a cough, cold, or the flu. And much like those illnesses, some people are more predisposed to catching them than others. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or unworthy. It just means you caught it and now you want to get over it.
If you’re expressing symptoms of depression, or you know someone who is, you can reach out to MeHelp Psychology for assistance.
If you require immediate assistance, Lifeline provides 24-hour crisis support telephone service and suicide prevention services.