Regular Sadness vs. Depression
It's natural to feel sad, down, or discouraged at times. We all feel these human emotions, they're reactions to the hassles and hurdles of life.
We may feel sad over an argument with a friend, a breakup, or a best friend moving out of town. We might be disappointed about doing poorly on a test or discouraged if our team can't break its losing streak. The death of someone close can lead to a specific kind of sadness — grief.
Most of the time, people manage to deal with these feelings and get past them with a little time and care.
Depression is more than occasionally feeling blue, sad, or down in the dumps, though. Depression is a strong mood involving sadness, discouragement, despair, or hopelessness that lasts for weeks, months, or even longer.
Depression affects more than a person's mood. It affects thinking, too. It interferes with the ability to notice or enjoy the good things in life. Depression drains the energy, motivation, and concentration a person needs for normal activities.
Signs of Depression
Here are some of the things people notice with depression:
- Negative feelings and mood. People with depression might feel unusually sad, discouraged, or defeated. They may feel hopeless, helpless, or alone. Some people feel guilty, unworthy, rejected, or unloved. Some people with depression feel, angry, easily annoyed, bitter, or alienated.
Any or all of these negative emotions can be part of a depressed mood if they go on for weeks or more.
Negative thinking. People with depression get stuck in negative thinking. This can make people focus on problems and faults. It can make things seem bleaker than they really are. Negative thinking can make a person believe things will never get better, that problems are too big to solve, that nothing can fix the situation, or that nothing matters.
Negative thinking can be self-critical, too. People may believe they are worthless and unlovable — even though that's not true. That can lead people with depression to think about harming themselves or about ending their own life. Negative thinking can block our ability to see solutions or realize that a problem is actually temporary.
- Low energy and motivation. People with depression may feel tired, drained, or exhausted. They might move more slowly or take longer to do things. It can feel as if everything requires more effort. People who feel this way might have trouble motivating themselves to do or care about anything.
Poor concentration. Depression can make it hard to concentrate and focus. It might be hard to do schoolwork, pay attention in class, remember lessons, or stay focused on what others say.
Physical problems. Some people with depression have an upset stomach or loss of appetite. Some might gain or lose weight. People might notice headaches and sleeping problems when they're depressed.
- Social withdrawing. People with depression may pull away from friends and family or from activities they once enjoyed. This usually makes them feel more lonely and isolated — and can make negative thinking worse.
Depression Can Go Unrecognized
People with depression may not realize they are depressed. Because self-critical thinking is part of depression, some people might mistakenly think of themselves as a failure, a bad student, a quitter, a slacker, a loser, or a bad person.
Because depression can affect how a person acts, it might be misunderstood as a bad attitude. Other people may think the person isn't trying or not putting in any effort. For example, a negative or irritable mood can cause someone to act more argumentative, disagreeable, or angry. That can make the person seem difficult to get along with or cause others to keep their distance. Low motivation, low energy, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of "why bother?" can lead someone to skip classes or school.
Some people with depression have other problems as well. These can intensify feelings of worthlessness or inner pain. For example, people who cut themselves or who have eating disorders or who go through extreme mood changes may have unrecognized depression.
When depression is recognized and treated, it often clears the way for other problems to get treated, too.
What Helps Depression Get Better?
Depression can get better with the right attention and care — sometimes more easily than a person thinks. But if it's not treated, things can stay bad or get worse. That's why people who are depressed shouldn't wait and hope it will go away on its own.
If you think you might be depressed, talk to a parent or other adult about getting the right help. The right help can mean doing all of these things:
Get a Medical Checkup
A doctor can check for any health conditions that might cause symptoms of depression. For example, hypothyroidism can cause a depressed mood, low energy, and tiredness. Mono can make a person feel tired and depressed.
Talk to a Counselor
Having meetings with a counselor or therapist is called talk therapy. Talk therapy can help people overcome depression. Talk therapy works by helping people to:
- understand their emotions, put feelings into words, and feel understood and supported
- build the confidence to deal with life's struggles
- work out problems they face
- change negative thinking patterns that are part of depression
- increase self-esteem and become more self-accepting
- increase their positive emotions and feel happier
Overcoming depression might include talk therapy, medication, or both. A therapist might also recommend daily exercise, exposure to daylight, or better ways of eating. A therapist might teach relaxation skills to help someone get a good night's sleep.
Many people find that it helps to open up to parents or other adults they trust. Simply saying something like, "I've been feeling really down lately and I think I'm depressed" can be a good way to begin the discussion.
If a parent or family member can't help, turn to your school counselor, school nurse, or a helpline.
Let friends and other people who care about you offer their support. They can:
- listen and talk, showing that they understand what you're feeling
- remind you that things can get better, and that they are there for you through the downs and ups
- help you see the things that are already good about your life, even when it's hard for you to notice
- keep you company and do enjoyable or relaxing things with you
- give you honest compliments and help you find things to laugh or smile about
Try these simple actions. They can have a powerful effect on mood and help with depression:
- eat healthy foods
- get the right amount of sleep
- walk, play, or do something else to get exercise every day
- take time to relax
- take time to notice the good things about life, no matter how small
Focusing on positive emotions and being with positive people can help, too. Do yoga, dance, and find creative self-expression through art, music, or journaling. Daily exercise, meditation, daylight, and positive emotions all can affect the brain's activity in ways that restore mood and well-being.
Depression can be treated if you take the right steps:
- Do what you can to care for yourself.
- See a doctor or counselor.
- Don't wait for depression to just go away.
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