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What Depression Really Looks Like

Lori Freson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

Depression. It’s a word we hear a lot about. Teens facing depression, Postpartum Depression, Major Depression, and more, have become common issues that we hear about and talk about regularly. And we all have an image in our minds of what depression looks like. We imagine crying and laying in bed all day, unable to function or go to work or school. While sometimes it can look like that, it’s not very common for the symptoms to be so extreme. Would you really know if you or someone you loved was depressed?

It’s important that we all learn what depression really looks like, in order to help ourselves and others get the help we need. Knowing what to look for will enable people to get help faster, feel better, and cause less damage to relationships, work, and school. The truth is, it could even save lives by preventing potential suicides.

Here is list of some common symptoms of depression, and examples of what this actually looks like in real life:

  1. Depressed mood: Some people describe this as feeling sad, empty or hopeless. This is not always melodramatic. Feeling empty can look like sitting home alone. Feeling hopeless can look like not liking your job. Sometimes people are very tearful. But in children and adolescents, the can look like irritable mood, which is pretty much every teenager. You cannot judge if one is depressed based on this symptom alone.
  2. Lack of interest or pleasure in activities. This doesn’t always look like someone making a blatant statement that they don’t want to do this or do that. It looks like apathy. If you ask where they want to go or what they want to do, they will simply say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t care”. Again, it doesn’t typically raise a red flag, but when you look at the big picture, if a number of symptoms are present, it is probably depression.
  3. Significant weight loss or weight gain, without trying. This could also look like a decreased appetite. This often goes unnoticed, as perhaps this is a person who has gained or lost weight before, so it doesn’t seem odd. It could be someone in midlife, whose body is likely to change anyway. So, this symptom really does tend to get overlooked.
  4. Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much. This symptom could be easily explained by any number of other circumstance. People who don’t sleep could say they’re just stressed and have too much to do, while those who sleep a lot will just say their week was exhausting or they’re not feeling well. And teenagers tend not to want to sleep at night, but then enjoy sleeping late in the morning or even the afternoon. It makes it hard to notice if this is a symptom they are experiencing.
  5. Observable restlessness or moving extremely slow. Granted, some people are like this all of the time. What you’re really looking for is a change from before. If all of a sudden someone is very active or fidgety, or really dragging, and they aren’t usually like that, be aware that it could be depression.
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy every day. So, really, who doesn’t feel fatigued? Who doesn’t lack energy at some point of the day? We’re looking for something a little bit more pervasive than what you’d expect to see on a daily basis, but this can be easy to overlook, as some amount of this is totally normal. Maybe a mom who is too tired every night to cook dinner or bathe her children. Could be someone who naps during the day, even after a full night’s sleep.
  7. Feeling worthlessness or extreme guilt. When someone feels bad about everything, even when the issues are totally normal, it can easily get framed as being sensitive. And worthlessness can look like humorous self-deprecating. Pay attention to this symptoms in the context of all the others. Because some people are just funny and sensitive, but sometimes it’s a sign of depression.
  8. Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions. This one gets brushed over as just being too tired or stressed to focus. But it’s a very common and important symptom to pay attention to. Someone who never knows what they want or doesn’t seem to care about anything could be depressed. Not being able to focus and get tasks done can really get in the way of functioning, so it’s really important to know that this could be from depression.
  9. Thoughts of death, suicidal ideation or suicide attempt. While these seem to be very clear to most of us, we often overlook the thoughts of death. Because it’s not only thoughts and plans to take your own life, it could be an obsession with dark themes about death, too. How many times after a tragic shooting have you heard that the shooter was interested in death themes?
  10. Lastly, if the symptoms are causing distress or impairment in one’s functioning, then it is surely a sign that depression is at play. That means that school or work is suffering. It means that relationships are being negatively impacted. It means that parenting has become too difficult. These symptoms are a good gage for determining when there is actually a problem or when it’s just normal.

Don’t ignore when you think you or someone you love might be depressed. Talk about with a loved one or trusted friend, and by all means reach out for help. There are therapists and doctors ready and able to help, and you will feel so much better. There is no shame in feeling depressed, and you are not alone.

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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.