Clinical depression is one of those things that everyone thinks they would know immediately if it happened to them or a loved one, but the truth is that it often sneaks up on people, encroaching bit by bit into normal life until slowly it becomes your new normal. The scary flip side of believing this is that often people think that they can keep depression away through sheer willpower or that if they just tried harder they could force themselves to feel better.
But you can be doing everything right and still feel like everything's wrong. It doesn't mean you're crazy — it just means you're one of the 350 million (yes, that's millions) who are affected by mental illness. And for women, clinical depression can be even scarier — as even though we're 70 percent more likely to suffer from it during our lifetimes, we're also almost twice as likely to have our symptoms dismissed by a medical professional.
“Sometimes it’s hard to diagnose depression in adult women because they don’t come in and say, ‘I’m depressed.’ They’re more likely to present with physical symptoms that they don’t connect with what they’re feeling… pain, memory problems, poor sleep, a change in appetite,” said Anne Fabiny, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of several research studies on depression.
So to help you better recognize the disorder, here are nine feelings that are often dismissed as moodiness, but that researchers say may actually be signs of depression.
Let's face it: Gaining weight can be depressing all on its own. But according to the National Institute of Mental Health, a rapid and/or extreme change in the number on the scale (particularly if you aren't trying to gain or lose weight) can indicate depression. But even just feeling chronically fat without your weight changing can be a sign of depression, particularly if every day feels like a "fat day" — as women in particular are likely to use "feeling fat" as shorthand for all other negative emotions.
No one is saying that having an extra glass of wine with dinner means you have a mental illness, but if it becomes every night at dinner or it starts earlier in the day, then you may be trying to drink away your feelings. “Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life,” playwright George Bernard Shaw once famously said. But the thing is, you shouldn't need anesthesia to get through your daily life.
Sometimes a headache is just a headache. But feeling chronic pain for no known medical reason can be your body's way of showing you how your brain is feeling, particularly if you're the type to brush off emotions.
Snapping at your kids? Yelling at the dog? Losing it over little things? Depression can manifest as irritability, particularly in women. There's a fine line between anger and sadness, one we often don't recognize until we're crying after a fight.
Feeling blah is just part of being human, but if everything bores you (and, conversely, nothing excites you) you might be depressed. No longer enjoying your favorite activities is a hallmark of the mental illness.
Some people retreat when they're depressed — and avoiding friends and family is one of the hallmarks of the illness — but never ever wanting to be alone can also be a symptom. Depressed extroverts may try to self-medicate by constantly surrounding themselves with a steady stream of friends, distractions and even hookups as a way to avoid their feelings.
Being suddenly unable to focus on normal tasks may earn you some adult ADD jokes from your co-workers, but inattentiveness and forgetfulness can be early signs of depression, particularly if you've never had problems remembering or focusing in the past.
The inability to make simple decisions, like what to order for lunch or what to wear in the morning, can be an early symptom of clinical depression. Even making little choices can just feel too hard or not worth it. You may also feel paralyzed by imagined catastrophic consequences for minor choices.
Perhaps one of the most insidious signs of depression is lacking normal emotions. We think of depression as nonstop sadness, but sometimes it's just nonstop... nothingness. Not feeling joy or excitement for things that normally make you happy is certainly a sign of depression, but so too is not being able to feel sad or cry when it's appropriate.
If you have any of these symptoms and they've lasted more than two weeks, the NIMH recommends contacting your doctor or mental health professional for an evaluation. For more information and resources on how to get help, click here.
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