Life can be (and often is) difficult in a fallen world. Everyone faces hardships, heartaches, grief, and tragedy. Everyone has days when they are down or have the blues. So how can you know if you or someone you love is truly struggling with depression?
To be honest, it can be difficult to determine if others are depressed. Chances are if you ask someone if they are depressed they will answer “no.” Maybe they do not want to be a burden. Maybe they don’t want to admit it. Maybe they feel as if they must put on a brave face for others. In my experience, usually the person who loudly complains about their depression isn’t really depressed. Usually it is the people who try to carry the cares of the world on their shoulders quietly and meekly that are in the darkness.
Likewise, it can be very difficult to self-diagnose depression. The reason is simple: when someone is depressed their thoughts are not trustworthy. Someone who is fighting the demon of depression rarely has enough mental energy to even examine their emotional well-being. Even if they can, depression skews a person’s perception so strongly that it’s hard to tell up from down.
So how can you tell if someone you love or you, yourself, are struggling with depression?
Step One: Pray that God will illuminate the truth of the situation. We cannot know a person’s heart (even our own according to Jeremiah 17:9) but God does. Ask God to show you the heart of the matter. Over time, He will.
Step Two: Know the symptoms. Like any medical condition depression has a long and scary list of symptoms. As you’ll see, most of us experience these in some measure throughout our lives so simply having some of these some of the time does not constitute depression. However, if a person consistently displays multiple of these symptoms or displays some of them severely, it likely is a concern. With depression, I’d encourage you to err on the side of caution. If you see warning signs get whatever help is necessary.
· Prolonged feelings of…
· A hopeless or pessimistic outlook on life
· Loss of interest in activity
o (i.e., someone who loves golfing suddenly no longer enjoys it etc.)
· Feeling lethargic, exhausted, or unmotivated
· Difficulty concentrating
· Trouble sleeping or over sleeping
· Changes in appetite
· Aches and pains such as
o Upset stomach
o Digestive issues
· Morbid thoughts
· Suicidal thoughts
Step Three: Talk to someone. As I mentioned earlier, I recommend erring on the side of caution so if you fear that you or someone you love is struggling with depression please talk to someone. Talk to your pastor. Talk to a wise believer in your life. Talk to a doctor. Just talk to someone who may be able to see through the fog more clearly and more objectively.
Before I wrap up this post on diagnosing depression, it is worth mentioning that there is a variety of types of depression. They all will have similar symptoms as listed above but their duration, causes, and the ways they manifest may be very different. Here is a brief description of some of the most common forms of depression.
1. Consistent Depression
Consistent forms of depression are medical conditions that involve our brain chemistry, patterns of behavior and thought, and lifestyle choices.
Major Depression – Major depression lasts longer than two weeks and usually affects a person throughout his/her lifetime.
Dysthymia - A less severe type of depression compared to major depression but still difficult. This type of depression is described as “a low mood over a prolonged period of time.”
Bi-polar Disorder – Also known as manic-depression, bi-polar disorder causes individuals to swing back and forth between stages of highs (manic) and lows (depression).
2. Seasonal Depression
Some people struggle with depression only in specific seasons of their life. Here are a few examples:
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – it is not uncommon in places with harsh winters that some people have literal seasonal depression. Lack of warmth, lack of sunlight, short days, and darkness may all influence this type of depression.
Postpartum Depression – Many women battle depression after giving birth. Perhaps, it is the result of changes in brain chemistry or lack of sleep or parental stress but never-the-less postpartum depression is every bit as real as any other form of depression.
Situational Depression – Situational depression comes from a traumatic life situation of some kind. It may involve the loss of a job, a difficult medical prognosis, ending of a relationship, or the death of a loved one. All of these things cause people to grieve in some measure. I wrote in my first blog in this series that depression is separate from grief. At least that grief is not in-it-of-itself depression. However, grief can morph into seasonal depression. Grief is a lifelong battle but if the symptoms listed above become consistent or severe it is likely that grief has become depression. In counseling we refer to grief that becomes overly unhealthy as “toxic grief.” One of the ways that grief can become toxic is if it leads to a lifestyle of situational depression.
I’ll wrap up this blog here. In the next blog I will begin to share with you the things that God used to heal me of my depression: things that to this day help me manage my depression. If you are struggling please get whatever help is needed. If you need someone to talk to I am always willing. Most importantly, know that God loves you and has a purpose for you beyond depression’s grasp and there is always hope in Christ!