Depression isn't just a bad feeling. It's also a problem with how a person functions.
Often I tell my patients that I don't think depression is the correct term to use - perhaps serotonin deficiency syndrome would be more accurate, or neurotransmitter imbalance syndrome. Since depression is frequently a chemical imbalance, it makes sense to call it by a chemical name. Using such a term also avoids the guilt and shame many people experience when diagnosed with a mental illness.
Apart from feeling unhappy and miserable, be on the alert for these 5 signs of depression:
1. Change in sleep pattern. Some people suffering from depression sleep more than usual. Others sleep too little. Insomnia can involve difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or both. One common pattern is awakening much earlier than you want to, say at 3 or 4 a.m., then being unable to return to sleep. Regardless of whether a depressed patient is getting too much sleep or too little, either way they don't feel rested and refreshed in the morning.
2. Change in appetite or weight. Both appetite and weight can either increase or decrease in association with depression. In general it seems heavier people tend to eat more when depressed, whereas thinner people tend to eat less. However, when depression gets bad enough, even overweight patients lose their appetite. Another sign of depression is weight loss without necessarily noticing that appetite has decreased. This is true of the elderly and children more so than people in between, but it can occur at any age. In general, whether eating too little or too much, depressed patients report little satisfaction from whatever they do eat.
3. Change in activity. Most patients suffering from clinical depression exhibit a change in activity or interest in activities. Typically this is a decrease. They lose interest in work, hobbies, friends, relationships. Occasionally a person will become more active, particularly someone suffering from bipolar depression. Also, just as some people get angry and irritable when drinking alcohol, an increase in physical aggressiveness may occur. On the whole, though, decreased activity is much more common.
4. Trouble with memory or thinking. This is especially common in elderly individuals who suffer from depression, and may be confused with other conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, hypothyroidism, B12 deficiency, or even stroke. Depression is common in the elderly, and should always be considered in someone who doesn't seem to be thinking as straight as they once were.
5. Vague physical symptoms. When doctors encounter symptoms they cannot explain or symptoms that don't resolve with normal therapies, the real problem may be depression. Because patients are not feeling well they may forget to mention other symptoms such as unhappiness. It helps to bring a close friend or relative along who can give a more objective view. If you're suffering from vague physical symptoms and your doctor doesn't consider depression, bring it up yourself. You might be doing yourself a big favor.
If you see yourself in this list of symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. There are many safe and effective treatments to help you both feel and function like your normal self.
Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, M.D.