Kate McLisky is a clinical psychologist with a background in mental health research. Kate works clinically with an integrative therapeutic approach to help people of all ages to manage and reduce symptoms of mental health disorders.
Although people often use the word “depressed” to describe a fleeting mood they experience, depression is actually a serious and sometimes debilitating mood disorder, diagnosed when someone is displaying a pattern of thoughts and behaviours brought on by their mental state.
As depression can be a complex disorder to understand, we're going to take an in-depth look into it, what the signs and symptoms are, and the ways depression can be managed.
Signs and symptoms of depression
The DSM (the diagnostic manual used to diagnose mental illness) has a range of diagnoses that are related to depression. The most basic is a Depressive Episode, which indicates that an individual has been experiencing at least five of the following symptoms, most of the time, for at least a two-week period:
Depressed mood – feeling sad, empty, hopeless or irritable
Loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities
Weight loss of gain related to loss or increase in appetite (not due to dieting)
Insomnia or hypersomnia – either not enough or too much sleep
Agitated or slowed movement, related to mood
Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
Thoughts of death or suicide.
There are a number of diagnoses that include depressive episodes. Major depressive disorder is the most well-known, and what we are usually referring to when we talk about “depression”. Major depressive disorder indicates a number of depressive episodes over at least a 6-month period.
People who are depressed often feel like they’re in a dark hole that they can’t find a way out of. It is common for people with depression to become highly self-critical, and to feel as though they are a burden, often withdrawing and isolating themselves from social situations and relationships. These symptoms can cause immense impairment and distress, and often lead to negative outcomes for physical health, in relationships, and at work.
First of all – let’s admit that managing depression is hard. Before crawling out of that dark hole, it’s important to acknowledge that it takes lots of time, hard work and often help from others. If we sum up “managing depression” as a few tips for changing behaviour, it might feel as though it’s meant to be easy. It’s not. Having said that, there are a few things that might be helpful to consider when taking the first steps to managing depression.
Depression often makes people withdraw from their previous interests and isolate themselves from social situations and relationships. Getting out of bed can be hard enough, let alone cleaning your house, putting effort into your appearance, or trying to engage with people. Even though your depressed part is telling you to stay in bed and binge TV whilst scrolling mindlessly through your phone, what’s needed is some structure or routine, and to include behaviours that provide two things: a feeling of success and achievement, as well as a feeling of enjoyment or pleasure.
Start by writing a list for each – what makes you feel as though you’ve achieved something? It can be as small as getting out of and making your bed, having a shower or going for a short walk. What do you enjoy, or what did you used to enjoy? This might be something creative, like painting, cooking or playing music, or something engaging, like spending time with a friend. If you can’t think of anything fun, experiment with some things that other people find fun.
Next, make a plan for your day, and try and include one of each. Make it simple and achievable, and be sure to include some nutritious food and some physical movement, if you can. Routine and structure are important for lifting your mood, feeling in control and leaving that deep dark hole.
Change negative thinking styles
Depressed thinking is not the same as normal thinking. When we’re depressed, we tend to focus more on the negative than the positive and become very 'all-or-nothing' in their thinking. This means you’re likely to see things as either perfect, or a total failure. Change your thinking by looking at your thoughts and seeing whether they are helpful or not. “I didn’t clean the house today, so I’m a failure” might be changed to, “today I got the washing done, and that’s a good start”.
Rather than thinking of all of your past mistakes, try to balance your thinking by remembering some things that you’ve done well, or even just good enough. It’s often helpful to imagine what you’d tell a friend in your situation, as we tend to be harder on ourselves than on our loved ones.
When depressed, people will tend to feel unable to ask for help, or really share with others because we feel burdensome or that we’ll bring people down to our level. Relationships are supposed to involve some give or take, and the people in your life want to help. So see if you can ask for help – for a friend to hang out, have a chat or just be there while you try and change your thinking and behaviour.
Seek professional help
Finding your way out of depression is not an easy task, and it’s normal to need someone there to talk to. You can start by talking to your GP about getting a mental health plan, or look at accessing help online. There are many websites, apps and helplines available, too, for when mental health services aren’t accessible to you, or if there’s a long wait to see someone.
Just remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.
If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.
Author credit: Kate McLisky
All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.