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It would be nice to get a text notification to alert us depression is here. Just a simple “The reason you hit snooze 10 times is your depression” would be nice. But clinical depression isn’t something anyone can self-diagnosis so easily.
And the reality is 264 million people worldwide live with depression. This condition can be the result of genetic, environmental, biological, or psychological factors.
It can last for days or years, which is also what can make it so hard to live with. Imagine a roller coaster of ups and downs but you can’t see whether an up or down is coming next.
There’s no shame in not being able to see the future! Just like there’s no shame in living with any mental health condition like depression.
But there are things you can do, to not make those downs come as a shock. Awareness of your stages and self-compassion for when you enter them is key, and it can be empowering. We’ll show you how to survive the ride — or at least make it tolerable.
What kind of ride depression takes you on, and how long that ride is, really depends on what type of depression you may have. Here are nine types and their defining characteristics:
|Type of depression||Defining characteristics|
|major depressive disorder||lasts everyday for more than 2 weeks|
|persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)||lasts 2 years or longer|
|bipolar depression||alternate lows with high and manic energy|
|perinatal or post-partum depression||occurs anytime during or after pregnancy (within 12 months)|
|premenstrual dysphoric disorder||lasts 1 to 2 weeks during ovulation and period|
|seasonal affective disorder||occurs during seasonal light changes, mostly fall and winter|
|situational depression||lasts 3 to 6 months, during a stressful event|
|atypical depression||short periods of mood improvement after a positive event|
“Stages” is a bit of a misnomer as there’s no set checklist to how depression shows up or makes you feel. Not everyone cries for 2 weeks straight or experiences hopelessness every day. In fact, some people with depression don’t fully comprehend their symptoms until after they feel better.
Real talk: There’s no shame in going through stages without knowing it, but you can’t practice self-compassion if you don’t know you’re in it! However, like the stages of grief, depression can be nonlinear too.
While these are nine common stages of depression, remember these aren’t in any particular order:
1. Unintentional all-nighters
Depression is tricky in that it can cause insomnia and also excessive sleeping. In short, you may find you can’t sleep, always feel like sleeping, or you’re sleeping all the time. This constant state of fatigue can contribute to a loss of interest. And… this is why the snooze button has become our BFF.
Tackling it: While a chemical imbalance can affect sleep patterns, it could also be fears and worries keeping you up at night. If you feel your anxiety is up both at night and in the morning, try our calming sleep tips or a different coping behavior, like journaling, before bed to get those thoughts out.
2. Losing interest (and feeling confused over it)
No matter how much you KonMari your life, depression may make it hard for you to find the joy. Things or activities you once looked forward to could now fill you with dread, including sexy time.
Depression can decrease your libido. Studies found that 40 percent of women who had issues with sexual desire, arousal, or orgasm also had depression.
Tackling it: No sex for yourself is one thing, but if you have a partner who is wondering about the withdrawal of physical affection, let them know where your head is at right now. An open, honest convo may help relieve some guilt. Same goes with other activities that may involve your friends and family. Try pushing yourself in small, realistic ways to do things that may be enjoyable.
3. Self-loathing and hopelessness
Unlike Rihanna who found love in a hopeless place, depression can have a major impact on one’s outlook, attitude, and relationships.
Feeling hopeless or without purpose is one of the most common symptoms of depression. If you find yourself asking “what’s the point?,” that could be your depression talking. This hopelessness can also come with feelings of guilt or self-blame particularly among women with depression.
Tackling it: Not everything needs a point, sometimes hopelessness is your brain running on empty and you need water and a nap. Or try starting small. An easy project, like growing a plant, can help you find meaning in the mundane. Practicing gratitude may also be helpful.
4. Weight or appetite/hunger fluctuations
Much like the effects of sleepiness, the impact of depression on appetite contains some opposing effects. Depression can cause weight fluctuations and either an increase or decrease in appetite. This symptom varies by person so it’s helpful to take note of any change in hunger cues.
Tackling it: In some cases when you eat is more important than what you eat. Set a food routine to help keep your energy while checking in with your body. Make sure to talk to your doctor about any significant weight changes.
5. Eerily irritable
Irritability is just like “PMS” — but for anyone. It could be a symptom of depression, which often goes hidden in men.
Research posits that irritability, anger, or aggressiveness occurs among men with depression because men are conditioned to avoid expressing their feelings.
Anger might also be a response to another emotion you’re trying not to deal with, like fear or sadness. If you’ve ever gotten angry about feeling sad or being unable to shift the sitch, it could be depression.
Tackling it: Address your anger by taking a break and getting to the bottom of it. This can be physical, like exercising to work out excess energy, or sitting down and focusing on what you can control.
6. Moody like a broken mood ring
Feeling all the feels too much at once? That could be your depression at work. These rapid shift in mood changes could mean one minute you’re enraged and the next minute, you’re in tears.
You might shift from having underlying negative thought patterns about yourself, your situation, or others to bursts of hope that fade fast.
Tackling it: It might be time to slow down and practice mindfulness to give your brain a break from ping-ponging from one emotion to another. Take the time to feel all the feels, even if it means taking the day off from everyone.
7. Hiding behind anxiety
It’s not clear if depression causes anxiety or if anxiety causes depression but the two conditions often occur concurrently.
The trick depression and anxiety like to play is, sometimes, trying to convince you the other doesn’t exist.
But you can still be depressed while anxious, even when anxiety causes symptoms that don’t feel dull and lethargic, like nervousness, rapid heart beat, heavy sweating, rapid breathing, and trouble focusing.
Tackling it: Use the HALT method when you’re feeling out of sorts. Before you do anything impulsive, breathe, and then ask yourself, am I hungry? Anxious? Lonely? or Tired? Treat those needs before making any other moves.
8. Suicidal ideation or self-harm
Thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or death is often the most serious stage and symptom of depression.
It’s important to note that suicidal ideation does not automatically mean you want to follow through. Thoughts of suicide can range from passive fleeting thoughts to making a plan to actually harm oneself.
Tackling it: The best thing you can do is talk about it with a friend or professional. Thoughts of suicide and self-harm can often send folks into a spiral of shame and self-blame.
If suicidal thoughts are surfacing
Please seek help — we can’t stress this enough. The following resources exist to support you through this hard time:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
- Ask someone to stay with you until help arrives.
- Remove any weapons or substances that may cause harm.
- Call 911 if you think someone is in immediate danger and you are unable to reach them. Calling 911 should be used with caution.
Healing from depression is not linear. For some it may be a lifelong condition from which you learn to manage your symptoms while others may see situations and themselves improve.
Most importantly, don’t set a time frame for recovery. Everyone has their own reasons for developing depression, which means you are allowed your own process — however long it takes.
That said, there are building blocks to making living with depression easier.
1. Identify symptoms and your triggers
Paying attention to how long your symptoms persist and how they affect your daily life is step one. From there, work backward to see if there are any common factors that trigger your symptoms.
This along with other conditions and medications you take will be helpful information to provide to your doctor or therapist.
If left untreated, depression can complicate other conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, asthma, and cancer. Your body can also have a physical reaction to this mental condition, which is also important to pay attention to.
2. Find a doctor or therapist
While your primary care doctor likely won’t specialize in mental health, they can be a good place to start sharing your symptoms. From there, your PCP can direct you to the best resources in your area to access mental health treatment including support groups or sliding scale therapists.
Technology has made therapy more accessible than ever. Teletherapy apps such as BetterHelp and TalkSpace allow folks to connect with a therapist from home via video chat or text.
3. Nail down a diagnosis
There can be cases where depressive symptoms occur with another diagnosis, such as PTSD. Once you meet with a mental health professional, they can help you confirm if you have a depression diagnosis and what type, more than one diagnosis, or if it’s something else entirely.
But having a clear diagnosis allows you and your health care provider to tailor treatment to the condition. You’ll also be more likely to see an improvement in your individual symptoms.
4. Test your treatment options
Finding what works for you may be like ordering jeans with no stretch online. Before you can find what fits, you may have to try a few that just don’t work for you.
Possible depression treatment options include:
- Talk therapy. Not an instant fix but studies do show that most people need 5 to 10 sessions before seeing results.
- Medication. This can be a hammer in your depression toolbox. Some use depression medications only for a short period of time while others engage in more long-term use.
- Alternative treatments. These can be sought out by those who prefer a more homeopathic approach. Consult your medical doctor before trying any of these methods to avoid any possible dangerous side effects.
- Lifestyle changes. They may not be enough to treat depression on their own but certainly eating mindfully, exercising, getting more restful sleep, and avoiding substances may help.
5. Treat, evaluate and adjust
Treating depression takes time so get a prescription for patience. There’s no quick fix so being consistent with treatment is the only way to see if it can be truly effective.
Although it can certainly feel this way, depression isn’t an on/off button. For many, there is no cure for depression because it can be a lifelong condition.
That said, it may also depend on what type of depression you have and what’s causing it. Situational depression, especially in terms of stressful events that are not traumatic, may ease away.
The key to treating depression is learning how to manage it so you don’t get trapped in the downs, unable to see the ups. Treatment, therapy, and developing self-awareness can help with that. And so does having a good network or support group who can help you through hard times.
Whether it’s online acquaintances or offline friends, know you are not alone on this depression coaster. It might not be the most fun, but trust us when we say we’ve been on the same ride too. It does go up.