There’s a lot more discussion around mental health, with depression often in the spotlight, in the past few years than in any other time. This is great for breaking away from stigmas, and allowing people to feel like they can seek help without judgement. However, it also has more people considering if this is something they’re dealing with, and wondering if what they’re experiencing is what depression feels like. It’s not like physical ailments that often have specific lists of symptoms to cross check. For mental health, the experience is a lot more personal, and how one person feels is not guaranteed to be how another person does. We do have some symptoms we can reference, though, that give an indication of what depression actually feels like and how to identify it in yourself and others.
Below, we list the symptoms that attribute to how depression feels for someone affected. However, the caveat for all of them is that, overall, you’ll feel depression’s presence in the severity, frequency and longevity of these symptoms. They are feelings you can’t shake, or they stem from ‘nothing’. They will last longer than a day, days or even weeks. Depression feels like you’re not able to escape these symptoms, regardless of what is happening around you.
Extreme lack of energy
There can be a number of reasons we can feel a significant drop in energy, and while depression isn’t automatically one of them, lower energy and depression are often intertwined. In fact, it is reported that fatigue is a major symptom for 90% of people diagnosed with depression.
There are a few reasons depression causes fatigue. For one, the neurotransmitters associated with alertness are affected when depression sets in, causing a physiological symptom of dropped energy. Secondly, fatigue can be a symptom of a symptom. Losing sleep, explained next, will invariably create a feeling of fatigue.
The feeling of fatigue can be tiredness, feeling like you just want to sleep a lot more, or physical fatigue, where your body feels lethargic and ‘heavy’, like wading through mud all day.
A common symptom of depression is continued inability to get an adequate night’s sleep. In fact, sleeplessness and depression can be cyclical. As much as depression can cause sleeplessness, ongoing sleeplessness can affect emotional regulators and serotonin levels, making people more susceptible to depression.
Any issues you may be having can feel compounded when you have depression. These problems create overthinking, and your brain cannot settle to achieve restorative sleep. You may not even notice you aren’t sleeping. Shallow sleep, in lieu of deep REM sleep, can also be both a sign of depression, and a cause of it.
Equally as common as lack of sleep or sleeplessness in depression, is also the feeling of wanting to sleep more and a struggle to find the energy to ‘face the day’.
This isn’t the same as being socially awkward, or an introvert (finding you rejuvenate your energy with some alone time, rather than in the company of others). Instead, it’s the consistent feeling of dread of being in social situations of any kind, while simultaneously feeling alone and wanting companionship and company. The difference is in being deeply unhappy or anxious at the thought of company, and being alone. This can often lead to irrational negative self talk (“I can’t make friends”, “I’m a loser”, “Nobody cares about me”) that exacerbates depressive feelings.
This can be an extremely isolating experience, and difficult for people without depression to understand. It’s not as simple as just engaging in more social events (although this is a helpful step as you are being treated for depression). If being around people and being alone brings you a significant feeling of dread, this is a strong indication you may be experiencing depression.
Thoughts of harming yourself
If you are feeling like you want to harm yourself, or someone else, this is a sign that you are depressed and need to seek professional support. It is likely you are in the throes of depression at this stage, and may have already considered it yourself, or had other people suggest it. Self harm is a very serious symptom of depression. It’s important to seek professional help as soon as you are having these feelings.
How to spot depression in other people
Spotting these symptoms in others can be difficult; more often than not these symptoms can be well concealed by those feeling them, and sometimes even their closest relationships don’t notice, or don’t notice the severity. There is no clear cut way to identify depression in someone, but these symptoms can only be hidden for so long before red flags show. If your once sociable friend is withdrawing more and more, or your partner is sleeping excessively, or not at all, these are behaviours that can demonstrate depression. The important thing is to not approach the person with judgement. You can’t guarantee their response, but to let them know that you are there for them and will assist in any help they need, is the best support you can offer.
CK Health are qualified in mental health services and can assist with complementary care to manage symptoms.
If you or someone you love is demonstrating signs of depression, there are wonderful support networks available: