Thoughts on Depression

For many of us, what we know about depression is learned from stereotyped images on television and in the movies.  These usually are of an individual who won’t leave their home, can’t get out of bed, can’t eat, has been in pajamas for days with messy hair (and unshaven face, if male,) and cries at the slightest provocation. While some forms of depression do present this way in some individuals, the truth is that symptoms of depressive are far more varied. In fact, depressive symptoms can vary by gender, age and ethnicity. Learning the variations is key to knowing when to get the appropriate help and treatment.

According to the “National Institute of Mental Health” website, “each year about 6.7% of U.S adults experience major depressive disorder. Women are 70% more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime.  Non-Hispanic blacks are 40% less likely than non-Hispanic whites to experience depression during their lifetime.  The average age of onset is 32 years old. Additionally, 3.3% of 13 to 18 year olds have experienced a seriously debilitating depressive disorder.”

In diagnosing depression, I’ve often found it more helpful to look for changes in an individual’s behavior and feelings, rather than just specific symptoms.  For example, some individuals eat a great deal while depressed and find it quite difficult to stay settled long enough to sleep comfortably. These happen to be 2 common symptoms of depress, the later particularly in men, which go against the stereotyped images. So in reality, any changes in appetite and sleep patterns may be symptoms of depression and not just excess sleep and poor appetite.

Isolating one’s self from others and from one’s feelings is a common symptom of depression. However, across genders, there are variations in how this presents itself. Rather than staying in bed all day, many employed men will spent more time at work, separating themselves from friends, family and opportunities to deal with their feelings.

Symptoms of depression also include changes in one’s emotional and psychological states. Women may be more likely to feel the need to isolate themselves and appear withdrawn; men are more likely to feel agitated. It’s important to remember, however, that either gender can have these symptoms. Those over age 18 are more likely to be able to identify their symptoms as that of feeling sad, empty or worthless. Individuals younger than 18 might not have that insight or language and are more likely to complain of being bored, tired or fidgety.

Other common symptoms of depression include loss of interest in activities that used to give you pleasure, body aches and pains, decreased sex drive, anxiety, crying for no reason, feelings of shame, guilt and hopelessness and thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.  

People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual and his or her particular depression.  Thus it is important to learn the signs and symptoms so they can be monitored and treated as soon as possible.

Tyler Stafford