Have you been feeling persistently down, maybe not prioritising your assignments as much as you used to, or been struggling at school? It’s good to check in with yourself — if you’ve been struggling for over 2 weeks, then there may be a chance that you are experiencing signs of depression.
To help our understanding of depression, we got to chat to practicing psychologist and CEO at KYDS, Anthony Rigney. He helped us dissect 5 signs of depression and what you can do if you think you or a friend or family member may be depressed.
Let’s get started.
Life is Tough!
Life can be tough sometimes and it can be really easy to focus all of your energy on the negatives. It’s normal to feel sad and overwhelmed by school, uni, work, friendships or family. As young people, it can be really tricky to navigate life’s seemingly endless challenges.
These low feelings of sadness may arise when you lose a family member, get your heart broken, get rejected from a dream job, receive a bad grade or when you feel overwhelmed from a messy room. Feelings of sadness can pop up anywhere and because life never seems to stop or slow down, it can be really easy to let these feelings go unchecked.
While it’s totally understandable to feel down in the dumps every now and again, it’s important to note that these feelings shouldn’t feel overly persistent or unshakeable.
If you feel like you’re struggling to get through your days or it’s an overwhelming effort to get out of bed in the mornings, you should consider chatting to a family member or a close confidant to see if you can seek some extra help. If you feel like these feelings of sadness are taking over, there’s a chance that you may be struggling with depression.
What is depression?
Depression impacts over 265 million people world wide — it’s an extremely difficult experience that is often characterised by persistent sadness and loss of regular function. According to Anthony it’s important to think of depression in terms of its impact on someone’s functioning.
Anthony explained, “So, what you notice is the symptoms of depression generally decrease peoples’ function across a number of different contexts and it’s generally categorised by a sense of sadness, a sense of hopelessness, a sense of worthlessness. In addition to that, there’s a loss of enjoyment for things in life that you’ll normally find some satisfaction in.”
If you’re finding that you or a friend is lacking enjoyment in activities that used to bring a sense of joy or fulfilment, it might be a sign of depression.
Depression may also be identifiable in a changed attitude towards school work. If you suddenly feel like doing your homework is far more difficult than it used to be, or if you’re struggling to prioritise any study, it may be a great idea to consult your GP or a qualified health professional.
While it’s completely warranted to feel sadness and stress sometimes, it can be difficult to distinguish between sadness or depression.
Sadness vs Depression
We got Anthony on the case.
“The word depression has snuck into the vernacular. It’s sort of a bit of a catch all for just feeling sad. I think it’s a very clinical term and what we’re really wanting people to think about is when someone says they’re depressed, have they been experiencing certain symptoms for at least a 2 week period or is it that they’re actually just, understandably, sad or upset or despondent about a situation?” Anthony said.
So, usually depression is defined by a minimum of 2 weeks of extreme sadness. If you or someone you know has felt persistently sad, down and unmotivated, maybe going to your local GP for a check up would be a really good idea.
5 Signs of Depression
During our chat with Anthony, he explained that the symptoms and signs of depression can generally be categorised into particular emotions, thoughts and physical experiences. Anthony gave us 5 signs of depression which we’ll get to now.
It’s important to remember that these aren’t the only 5 signs of depression — it’s a different experience for everyone. Maybe you don’t experience any examples on this list.
Either way, if you’re feeling down, it’s always the best option to chat with a professional or a trusted friend or family member. People are always going to be willing to help no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise.
#1: Withdrawal and isolation
“Some behaviours are generally related to a sense of isolation or separating yourself from others. In a sense, people who feel depressed almost don’t want to interact with people. So, they’ll avoid others,” Anthony told us.
Social withdrawal is a pretty common sign of depression. Withdrawal will involve someone isolating themselves from friends, family, school, study and activities that would usually bring a sense of joy. It’s a really difficult situation to make your way out of especially when it feels like the only way to deal with such intense feelings.
Withdrawal typically involves cutting off relationships, struggling to function, difficulty completing tasks and not wanting to interact with anyone.
“It can often be quite counterintuitive because when you’re feeling depressed you should actually be reaching out more to people but what people tend to do is withdraw more into themselves. It’s that real sense of sadness, hopelessness and feeling overwhelmed,” Anthony added.
While it’s unbelievably difficult to rationalise these feelings, if you find yourself withdrawing or isolating yourself, it might be helpful to tell people when you first get these feelings, so that they’ll know to check in and help you work through it. Again, even if it may not feel like it, your friends and family want to help.
#2: Sadness and irritability
Anthony explained that irritability is an often overlooked sign of depression. Since depression is generally characterised by extreme sadness, it can be hard to identify feeling easily irritated as a sign of depression.
“To be irritable has a bit more of a purpose than sadness. One of the hard parts about depression is when you’re feeling sad, it’s kind of hard knowing what to do with that sadness. If you’re irritable, it’s a bit more of a powerful feeling,” Anthony told us.
So, look out for extreme feelings of irritability because it can be really easy to miss out on those signs.
#3: Destructive thoughts
“Then you’ve got certain thoughts that tend to go with depression. Sometimes people will think, ‘I’m worthless, I’m a failure, everything’s my fault, nothing good ever happens to me,’ and that can lead to ideas around life not being worth living,” Anthony explained.
Destructive thoughts and a negative outlook are typically the most well known signs of depression. Another tricky element of this sign is that these destructive thoughts are still quite stigmatised.
It can be hard to seek help when it feels like no one will understand but it’s extremely important to ask a professional or GP for help. These thoughts can get out of hand if they’re left unchecked.
#4: Inability to perform everyday tasks
Another sign that Anthony noted was the inability for those who have depression to perform everyday tasks or function as they used to. So far the other signs have been psychological symptoms, this one is more physical and more easily visible.
“Then there’s the physical nature of things — the challenge of doing the day to day things that you would normally expect yourself to do,” Anthony said.
This might involve no desire to get out of bed, difficulty getting ready or inability to perform tasks that you’d usually be able to handle.
Depression can also impact your school work. If you’ve noticed your grades dropping because it’s a struggle to dedicate the appropriate amount of time to your exams and homework, chat to your teachers!
Anthony also noted that this generally links with difficulty getting to sleep or getting too much sleep.
#5: Too little or too much sleep
“So, you’re often feeling tired all the time or you might need to sleep too much or you’re not getting enough sleep. A physiological side of depression is that people will wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and they just can’t get back to sleep for many hours,” Anthony said.
Your sleep patterns can be a really important indicator of your mental health. Although the tricky part is that it goes both ways.
If you’re feeling overly tired all the time and constantly feel the need to sleep, this may be a sign of depression. On the other hand, if you find yourself struggling for hours to get to sleep, it’s another sign of depression.
It can be really tricky to identify depression when there are so many different signs and variables. If you’re feeling sad or different for an extended period of time, it’s always a good idea to check in with a professional even if you’re not sure if you meet the criteria.
What should you do if you feel like you may be depressed?
#1: Tell someone you trust about what you’re feeling
If you experience some of the signs that we’ve listed above, you should try to tell a close friend and seek professional help. Of course this process is definitely easier said than done because depression has the tendency to be very deceptive.
Sometimes it can be easy to listen to those negative thoughts that tell you that you’re not enough or that you’re a failure and then you may begin to think that you’re not worth helping either.
#2: Know that it’s okay to ask for help
Depression is never your fault. You’re never a burden on anyone for asking for help. The people around you are far more willing to help than you realise. Reach out and seek help.
It’s an extremely difficult thing to admit that you’re struggling, but it’s the first step to recovery. Anthony also explained the importance of helplines if you don’t want to talk to someone you know or if you feel like there isn’t the right person to talk to.
“There are certainly a number of telephone lines you can call that can help guide you through your feelings. Particularly if someone is having these experiences late at night, then some of those phone lines like Lifeline or the Kids Helpline have very well trained professionals who can at least start to help you think through what’s going on and what your next steps might look like,” he said.
#3: Find a compatible GP
Anthony also stressed the importance of finding a compatible GP that you feel comfortable talking about these things with.
He explained, “The other person who is very important when going through this process is your GP. If you don’t have a regular GP to go to, try and find someone who could take on that role with you going forward.”
“Again, if you’re at that stage where you’ve been experiencing all of those symptoms over a couple of weeks, then you’re in that range of meeting the diagnosis for depression. It’s likely that alongside exercising, getting enough sleep, having a balanced diet, you might want to start looking into more professional support,” Anthony added.
What if a friend or family member is exhibiting any one of those 5 signs of depression?
If you’re worried about the wellbeing of a friend or family, the same steps apply. It’s good to try and talk to them because while they may want to isolate themselves and withdraw, oftentimes it’s their depression talking and not what they truly want.
You should provide a safe talking space for empathy, listening and understanding. Anthony also explained that it’s common for people not to want to discuss their feelings because that means that they’re validating them as opposed to pushing them aside.
Why does depression occur?
It’s also important to mention that there’s no one reason for depression — it’s not wholly hereditary nor is it some sort of chemical imbalance. It can happen to anyone and that’s why it’s so important to remember that you’re not alone and that it isn’t your fault.
Anthony explained how he perceived depression to occur, “What we know is that it’s a complex issue and that there’s a number of different factors that would contribute. Oftentimes, and I guess in terms of any mental health difficulty, ongoing exposure to stressful situations is a really good determinant of going on to develop a mental health difficulty whether that’s anxiety or depression or another mental health difficulty.”
He added, “It’s not all genes and it’s not all environment. It’s probably a mix of personality, medical problems, previous trauma. The reality is, it doesn’t boil down to a chemical imbalance, it’s not as simple as that, it’s a combination of different factors that lead people to be depressed.”
Making the decision to seek help is a huge accomplishment. Below we’ve included a few valuable sites and helplines which are there to support you through these difficult times.
Lifeline is a free helpline that you can utilise via call or text. You can also call this number if you’re worried about someone else.
KidsHelpLine is another free telephone service that supports people from the ages 5 to 25 through on the phone counselling.
headspace is another great resource for informative articles and for online and telephone services.
KYDS provides free and confidential support to teenagers.
Gemma Billington is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and an undergraduate student at the University of Technology Sydney. While studying Journalism and Social and Political Sciences, Gemma enjoys spending her time at the gym or reading about Britain’s medieval monarchy – ideally not at the same time. She currently creates and administers social media posts for Central News and writes for the student publication, The Comma. After completing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to study a Masters of Medieval History and is very excited about the prospect!