For many people the answer isn’t a simple yes or no. It’s almost as though the answer lies in limbo; they are “almost” happy while at the same time they also feel “almost” depressed. Nothing definitive just the notion that things shouldn’t be so difficult . So how do you know if you are in fact depressed?
This was a question I toyed with for months when my son teetered on that line. There were days when I worried and days when his behavior had me pushing the worry aside. Only weeks after his admittance into “The Ranch”, on a routine google hunt for information that would help me understand how I could have missed all the signs I ran across this checklist and article that would help me understand what it was like to be on the verge of depression.
It was something tangible with information on ”how to identify, prevent and fix it” and that’s what I needed. I needed to create a life that was stress free and full of fun, and this information became a step in the right direction! It helped me and I hope it helps you.
Most everyone has experienced the blues: a few days now and then when you feel mopey, sad, a little off your game, or just tired of it all. This is part of the normal ebb and flow of emotions. Life has its ups and downs. However, when these “off” periods begin to string together for a month or longer, you may have more than just the blues: you may be almost depressed. This is not a “clinical” level of depression, but it’s more than a period of the blues that you can’t just snap out of.
Why is it important to make the distinction between the blues and low-level “almost” depression? There are two reasons: first, research shows that about 75 percent of people who have subclinical periods of depression eventually have a major depressive episode or clinical depression. You want to avoid this downward spiral if possible because clinical depression can lead to serious problems, including a four-times-greater-than-average risk for heart attack, an increased risk for suicide, as well as feelings of hopelessness and distress. Second, subclinical depression causes distress in its own right. My colleagues and I recently completed a study where we found that people who are almost depressed (who have a couple of the signs of depression but not at the clinical level) report lower life satisfaction, more symptoms of anxiety and more problems in their relationships and marriages than people who have no signs of depression.
For these reasons, you may want to check yourself or a loved one and see if you notice any of the following changes from normal behavior lasting a month or longer:
- Getting easily irritated over little things
- Making excuses not to go out with friends and preferring to be alone
- Trouble sleeping
- Thinking food doesn’t taste very good
- Having trouble getting up for activities that you used to look forward to
- Losing your sense of humor
- Losing interest in sex
- Trouble concentrating, even on a favorite TV show or book
- Feeling tired, even after you’ve slept a normal amount of time
If you notice these changes, don’t let yourself linger in the almost depressed state. Take some action. Here are a few suggestions:
- Exercise: 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week has been shown to lift negative mood.
- Spend more time doing activities that you enjoy: Even if you’re not enjoying these activities as much as you used to, pleasurable activities activate parts of the brain that become deactivated during clinical depression.
- Socialize with friends: Even if you don’t really feel like it, being with others who care about you is important in maintaining or regaining a positive mood.
- Think positively: If you catch yourself thinking negatively, consider how you could look at yourself, your circumstances, or others from a different perspective that’s more optimistic and realistic. This has been shown to decrease depressive feelings.
- Express your negative mood creatively: Write about it, paint it or put it to music. Read the blog post “Use Creativity to Combat Negative Emotions” for more ideas.
You can find out more about depression, its signs and what to do about it in the newly updated depression assessment on afterdeployment.org. By recognizing and acting to defuse early signs of depression, you can avoid more serious mood problems and get back on top of your game.
This blog post was written by Dr. Shelley Carson, a psychologist with the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), a Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury center. For more blog posts written by subject matter experts at T2, visit the ‘blog section’ of afterdeployment.org.