Inevitably you will experience disappointments and loss in your life. That's part of the fine print on the contract you signed when you joined the human race. But like a wave, emotions come and go. You will at some point in your life experience down days and hurt. What causes the imbalance in your life is when the emotions you feel stop moving like a wave and becomes a point stuck in time, keeping you in a constant state of low energy, negative feelings and despair. Here are some ways to find out if the emotional valley you're in is actually depression.
Sadness, Heartache & Despair
You will encounter setbacks and possibly failure in your life. Sadness, heartache, and despair are normal emotions to feel when reacting to bad news. These are realistic and valid ways to feel when life hands you a tragedy. However what keeps these emotions from being depression is that they are transient, and with time (a few hours, a few days, or even a week or two) you will return to your normal emotional set point.
These "negative" feelings are part of the body's natural emotional wave and should be expected when the circumstances are appropriate. These feelings are not fun but they don't interfere with the flow of your life or your self-esteem and are a healthy way of experiencing difficult times. Like an inconvenient rain that only lasts a short while then blows away, these emotions don't keep you from living your life.
The Grieving Process
Grief is also a very normal emotion but can be devastating. Losing a loved one or experiencing a significant loss hurts. There is no way around it. There is no "usual" time period for the grieving process. Grief can last months and in extreme cases years, particularly if the loss has been traumatic and unexpected. Mending a broken heart takes time.
Normally, the loss you are grieving does not affect your self-esteem and this is why grief is also not depression. But say that the grief experienced is a divorce or job loss, or something else that might have been tied to your self-worth, then depression could rise. Finding that your partner doesn't want you anymore or that the job you loved is now gone can affect your self-esteem.
Studies have shown that 25% of people experiencing considerable grief will develop depression.1 Depression, and the feelings of hopelessness and anxiety, may actually interfere with the ability to grieve. When dealing with this double curse the depression will need to be resolved first in order to get to a point where the grieving process can flow and eventually resolve.
You can distinguish depression from sadness and grief by the intensity, endurance, and persistence of the hurt and sadness. Despair and unhappiness has become your set point. There is often long-term, unresolved anger and emotional trauma, as well as, the feelings of hopelessness and loss of self-esteem that come along for the ride. Plus, there is the ever-present tendency of the depressed to blame themselves for feeling that way.
Depression interferes with daily life in a major way. Concentration, eating, sex, and sleeping might be affected. It also might bring with it intense rage, extremely negative thoughts, persistent worrying, restlessness, feelings of being overwhelmed, fatigue and low energy, chronic pain, headaches, or stomach aches. There is also a general boredom in all aspects of life and withdrawal from friends and family. The major problem is that this feels "normal" so there is a tendency to do nothing about it.
Symptoms of Depression
From the National Institute of Mental Health
- Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Insomnia, early morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
The elephant on the table of depression is suicide. 30% of clinically depressed people will attempt suicide. 15% will succeed.2 If you have suicidal thoughts or you know someone who seems suicidal you need to take them very seriously.
Suicidal Warning Signs
From the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
- Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself
- Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means
- Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
- Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities - seemingly without thinking
- Feeling trapped - like there's no way out
- Increasing alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
- Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
- Experiencing dramatic mood changes
- Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life
If You Are In Crisis:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
**Open 24 Hours A Day, Everyday
This service available to anyone.
You may call for yourself or for someone you care about.
All calls are confidential.
Hope Community Crisis Centers