Am I depressed?
During the last month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?The questions a doctor might ask you to screen for depression are:
- During the last month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
- During the last month, have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?
Did you answer yes to both?
If your answer is yes to either question then look more closely at the list of ‘Depression warning signs’ below. Think back over the most recent two weeks and record how often you have experienced each of the warning signs relevant to you. It is likely that depression is affecting you if you have experienced:
- a persistently sad, low, anxious or empty mood, plus
- at least 4 more of the warning signs,
- on most days over the last two weeks,
Most of these signs can also be a normal part of the ups and downs of everyday life and most people will have experienced some of these signs at some time.
However, if you can see a trend of several of these signs which have persisted over several weeks then take it seriously. Check ‘Am I depressed’ and then take appropriate action (see ‘Tackle Depression’ and ‘Get Support’).
Persistently sad, anxious or generally low mood
Everyone feels sad sometimes, has an anxious moment, or has a day when things feel a bit empty or low.
However, when depression invades it seems to keep you feeling persistently sad, low, anxious or empty. Some people feel a combination of these four feelings. Others feel predominantly one of them.
Loss of interest
Do you find yourself saying “I can’t be bothered,” or “What’s the point?” about things you used to find interesting or engaging?
Depression thrives on cynical or ‘bored’ attitudes to life, and itself generates a sense of meaninglessness. This loss of interest can include loss of sexual interest, which can create strain in relationships, in turn allowing more room for depression.
Lethargy or decreased energy
Do you often feel unable to get up at the usual time? Or too lethargic to complete routine everyday tasks?
Or do you generally find yourself less able to maintain your usual activity levels? Depression may be sapping your energy and taking root as you succumb to lethargy.
Irregular sleep or change in sleep pattern
Sometimes there is a pattern of excessive sleep. Regular, sound sleep is essential for healthy functioning and sleep disruption is a particularly debilitating weapon in the depression arsenal.
Appetite or weight changes
Regular healthy eating is essential for general wellbeing.
Loss of appetite and weight loss, or sometimes overeating and weight gain, can be a sign that depression is interfering with the healthy eating habits essential for maintenance of healthy mood levels.
Crying serves a very useful purpose – stress hormones are released through tears.
However, if you find yourself crying much more than usual for no clear reasons it may be a sign that depression is at work.
Do you find it hard to settle down to a task, or to sit still for any length of time? Some people are naturally energetic, but depression can bring a troubling sense of restlessness and inability to focus.
Being constantly keyed up and over-alert in this way is very draining, in turn decreasing resistance to depression.
Poor concentration and difficulty making decisions
Depression is often said to be a problem of disordered thinking, with “automatic negative thoughts” crowding the mind. Poor concentration and/or difficulty making decisions can be due to ‘blanking things out’ or may indicate the need to address the thinking habits which are allowing depression a foothold.
Hopelessness and pessimism
Having a generally pessimistic outlook can feel like the “safe” approach in an uncertain world – “Well, at least that way I won”t be disappointed”.
However, depression thrives on this negative attitude, increasingly robbing you of hope and leaving its characteristic “empty” feeling instead.
Feelings of helplessness
There are many uncertainties in life and things that cannot be controlled, yet many cultures emphasise the importance of individuals having “control” over their lives. Having bad things happen and not being able to prevent them can then leave someone vulnerable to the generalised feeling of helplessness that depression feeds on and perpetuates.
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Depression thrives on opportunities to promote over-harsh self-judgement and feelings of worthlessness and being of low value. It causes people to inappropriately blame themselves for experiences such as being badly treated or failing to meet unrealistic standards. This can lead to corrosive and unhelpful guilt.
Thoughts of death or suicide
Death is said to be the most profound issue facing humankind, and it is natural that it should be contemplated on occasion. However, the excessive negativity caused by depression can lead to repetitive, unhelpful dwelling on death. Depression also reduces problem-solving ability and causes increasing ‘tunnel vision’, falsely making suicide seem like a solution to problems.
A doctor would also want to assess in what ways and how severely depression is affecting your daily functioning. If you have checked the warning signs and think depression may be affecting you, it would be useful to look more carefully for what specific changes have taken place in your life.
Sometimes, depression brings quite obvious changes. It is almost as if you can’t recognise yourself anymore. You might look at this new self and not like what you see, not realising that it is depression which has changed you.
The changes depression brings will be different for each person. The changes may feel very subtle and internal, with the ‘public’ you seeming to go on as normal. Or the changes may be obvious and dramatic. It may feel as if you have been very suddenly affected, or you may look back and notice a long, slow slide down into depression.
- Think back to when you feel fairly sure you weren’t being affected by depression (say 6 months ago, but it could be longer than this).
- Now reflect on each area of your life: work, social life, family relationships, sex life, and so on.
- Go through each area and note the changes: how is this area of your life different now from what it was like then?
Take it seriously and get help
If your answers to the screening questions suggest that depression is a factor in your life then you need to take this very seriously. Depression reinforces itself in a downward spiral of worsening mood, and can be a serious and dangerous condition if left untreated.
If you have found yourself considering acting on thoughts of death or suicide, even if you have not experienced any of the other warning signs, then it is very important to take appropriate action at once. Tell someone else and get help. Click on the Desperate Right Now? button at the top for more detailed advice.