Depression has recently made headlines with the passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Since their suicides, many people have been speaking out about signs of depression and ways those depressed can seek help. If you have kept up with my blog, you know that I too suffer from depression and anxiety. I have written about dealing with depression during study abroad and the issue with the dramatization of depression in media.
With the recent spike in suicides after the news of the two celebrity deaths broke, I thought I might share some signs of depression that some people may display, but are not often recognized as symptoms by the lay-person. Some of these I have experienced and others I have not. Depression manifests itself differently in everyone. Some people may display one symptom, several symptoms, or none. However, it is important as friends and family members that we be aware of signs so we can better address the needs of our loved ones.
If I could describe my depression in one word, it would be fatigue. Although I am on medication, this is one of the symptoms that has not seemed to dissipate. Fatigue can manifest itself in several ways. For instance, you may have a friend who always seems mentally drained. Or they may be sleeping for 12 hours each night. Do they have the energy to clean their room? Brush their teeth? Take a shower? Normally, it should be pretty simple to do these daily tasks. If they cannot, it could be depression.
Another sign of depression is a change in eating habits. For me, this means stuffing my face with any food that can be eaten in bed until I gain 10 pounds. For one of my friends, this means not eating at all because she can’t stand the thought of food. If you have noticed that a loved one has a change in eating habits, you might talk to them about what is on their mind.
Depression can make the smallest interaction seem like the largest mountain in the world to climb. I get it. I’ve been there. Sometimes, no matter how much someone with depression wants to hang out with friends or visit family, the interaction may be too much to handle. Check on your friends. If they are staying in bed all day, not returning phone calls, not leaving the house, not doing things that they once enjoyed, maybe something is up.
I think something we often miss with this symptom of depression is spotting the difference between the symptom and laziness or introverted-ness. I remember my first year with depression. I could barely make it to my internship and to class. I felt so embarrassed around professors and people who I looked up to because I knew they were judging me for my lack of accountability. In fact, I was battling depression that made getting out of the door each morning the most terrifying task. If someone had asked me if I was okay instead of assuming that I was lazy or irresponsible, would I have said something about my depression? Probably not. But it is so important to ASK. The proof of this was demonstrated to me in my last semester of undergrad. There was a girl in my capstone class who hadn’t shown up in three weeks (which is a lot to miss for a once-a-week capstone). My friend reached out to her over text to make sure she was alright. In fact, she was battling major depression which made it difficult to attend class. My friend was the first person who had reached out to her. Be that person. Reach out.
I hate writing this on a public blog, but I endeavor to keep it real, especially when it comes to representing the reality of depression. In my darkest times of depression, there was always a bottle of alcohol on my bedside table. This may seem really strange and destructive, but I have had multiple people tell me that they practiced the same behavior when they were having a tough time with depression. Do you have a friend who is drinking a lot? Using drugs? What is their behavior like when they are on a substance? My behavior during alcohol induced drunkenness when I was depressed can only be described in two words: HOT MESS. I would vomit, sob, cry, scream, run away. Describe the worst drunk person in the world? That was me.
This behavior is not normal. Substance abuse is not healthy in the first place, but, combined with depression, it actually worsens symptoms. If you know someone in your life who is practicing substance abuse, or someone who isn’t abusing substances but is acting the way I described above when they are under the influence, THEY NEED HELP. Talk to them about their behavior. I have the most wonderful friends who have helped me through those trying times, and I am alive today because of them. Not only that, but I understand the danger of alcohol consumption in combination with depression. Don’t stand by and allow your friend to practice this behavior. See the signs and say something.
Mood swings or mood changes are a common sign of depression. Unfortunately, some people assume that being sad is the only mood that indicates depression. In fact, any drastic change can be an indicator. If you have a friend who is unusually snappy or rude, they could be dealing with a mental health issue. Lack of mood is also a sign. If someone you know is less reactive than normal or more even-tempered, it could be that depressed has caused a lack of emotion. Obviously, sadness is also a symptom. Pay close attention if the sadness lasts for a long time or if the sadness they are experiencing seems to affect their everyday activities.
Depression can also manifest itself into aches and pains. This could be anything from a stomach ache or headache to back pain. It isn’t the same for everyone. However, it is a good way to spot depression before a friend may even realize they have it.
What can you do?
So, what can you do if you notice someone may be suffering from depression? So often, we hand out hotlines and offer assistance without being proactive. For those suffering from depression, reaching out may not always be feasible. It often takes someone else reaching out personally to make a difference. Below are a few things you can do to help someone in need.
Reach out, even if you’re not close to that person. Do you notice that they have any of the symptoms listed above or that they haven’t been showing up? Say hello. Offer a hand. Let them know that they are noticed.
Listen to what they need. Too often, we think that the answer to depression is some big show by dragging someone depressed out of the house and into the sunshine or making them visit a psychologist. The truth is, people with depression are just that: people. They know what they need. Don’t assume. Ask. Listen. The simplest things make a huge difference.
Along with listening, be proactive. If you notice your friend with depression hasn’t been eating well lately, cook them something. If they haven’t been outside in awhile, ask if they want to go for a walk or open the windows in the house. Have they been skipping class? Ask if they need you to write an email to their professor.
Finally, serious depression is not something to mess with. If you know someone with depression has threatened to harm themselves or harm others, they are not in the right frame of mind. There are so many resources out there for them, but they might not be mentally sound enough to reach out. If you are with them, stay with them until you know they are alright. If they are a student, most universities have counseling resource centers and after hours resources for people contemplating self harm. If you have to, contact the authorities or contact a closer friend/family member. It does not matter if they are angry with you for helping, you are saving a life.
I hope you learned somethings reading a little about depression and what you can watch out for/do to help those of us who have it. Below, I have listed some resources. Share them, save them, know them.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741
Goddard Counseling Services (OU): (405) 325-2911
Behavioral Intervention Team Anonymous Reporting Form (OU): https://cm.maxient.com/reportingform.php?UnivofOklahoma&layout_id=3