What is depression?
Most people feel sad sometimes, it’s part of the normal emotional ebb and flow of living life. These periods of sadness, or “feeling down” or blue, usually go away in a day or two. This is normal. Clinical depression is different. It’s a sadness or hopelessness that doesn’t go away or get better in a few days, and it interferes significantly with the daily functions of life. Learn more by watching this Ted Talk on depression.
People who are truly depressed may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Sad mood, noticed by self or others
- Loss of interest in normally pleasurable activities
- Weight loss or weight gain when not attempting to do so
- Not being able to sleep well, or sleeping too much
- Fatigue and/or loss of energy
- Physical slow-down, or physical agitation
- Irritability, anger, or impatience
- Feelings of worthlessness guilt
- Inability to think clearly, stay focused, or make decisions
- Unusual headaches or body aches
- Recurrent thoughts of dying, self-harm, or suicide
How should I respond if I think I’m depressed, or someone I love is depressed?
First and foremost, if you have serious thoughts of self-harm, or know someone who does, please seek help immediately. Click here for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If a loved-one is considering self-harm, do not leave them alone. Call your doctor or 911, and wait with the person until help arrives, or take them directly to the emergency room for treatment.
Many people find that mild depression (feeling “blue” but still functioning) can be successfully handled by making positive lifestyle changes such as:
- Exercising and being active physically (try it even if you don’t feel like it, it usually has positive effect on negative moods)
- Eating healthier foods
- Staying engaged with people even when you don’t feel like seeing others (especially healthy/supportive relationships)
- Confiding in a trusted friend
- Spiritual activities or meditation
With symptoms of more moderate depression (skipping classes, calling in sick to work, avoiding people you normally enjoy, feeling hopeless or helpless), then it is probably time to seek professional help. Most people with depression respond well to treatment, and research shows that the earlier treatment is sought, the more effective it is. So don’t wait too long.
Apps, Links, and Self-Help for Depression
- Do I have depression? Take this survey or take this survey
- Check out the PHQ-9 or Previdence self-assessment apps for your phone
- Track moods for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more with T2 Mood Tracker
- Have a real-time anonymous confidential conversation with a trained active listener using the 7 Cups of Tea app for iPhone or Android.
Psychological Self-Help (PSH) is pretty much what it sounds like – self-treatment for emotional and mental distress without the assistance of a trained professional. There are benefits to using self-help resources, but there also can be some downsides.
Self-help can be fast, inexpensive, and convenient. On the other hand, more serious conditions might not get timely and effective treatment. So, we offer this section with a bit of caution: don’t rely solely on self-help for intense or persistent conditions that really require professional services.
How do you know when you should see a counselor?
- Your distress is intense – some emotional or mental discomfort can be a normal part of life’s ebb and flow, but when it interferes with your ability to function and enjoy life, it may be time to seek help
- Your distress has been going on for a long time - we all have bad days, but distress that lasts for weeks or months is not ordinary
- Your distress is damaging – if your relationships, your academics, or your job is being negatively affected, it may be time to seek help
- Your sleep - is significantly affected (too much or too little)
- Unusual thoughts – especially about harming yourself or others