Article by Dr. McKenna Hereford
When we talk about mental health concerns, most people immediately think about depression. We probably picture someone who’s sad, seems hopeless, and/or stops spending time with people. You might also think of that Zoloft commercial from many years ago with the blob that appears very sad in a muted color scheme and stops bouncing around as much. This mental picture we might have is not wrong! When we consider typical experiences of depression, whether passing mood or a persistent clinical level, people often experience some combination of those symptoms. This doesn’t capture the entire experience of depression, though. It’s important to discuss a variety of “pictures” of depression. Many people might feel left out or misunderstood when others miss some of these experiences! People might also slip through the cracks if some of these signs are missed. Below are just three examples to be aware of.
#1 – Anger
This one might throw people off! Sadness is the typical emotion we think of when we hear “depression.” However, not everyone shows sadness in their daily lives and then might also not show sadness while depressed. If you are in an environment, or were raised in an environment, where you cannot safely experience sadness, anger might be an alternative. If we think about this from a chemical perspective, depression tends to create some imbalance in our emotions in general, and irritability is a relatively common experience of depression. Sprinkle some genetics in the mix, and you might be more likely to feel grumpy, irritable, or angry more often than sadness.
People might also experience a range of emotions that are not immediately considered to be sadness. For example, studies looking at Black men in college show an experience of anger or “numbness” when feeling depressed over the typical sadness we might expect to see in depression. This is really important, because if people do not feel seen or have language/understanding to describe their experience, they might feel invalidated or lost. Historically, researchers studying depression have left out large groups of people which has left a limited understanding of what depression looks like in people.
#2 – Changes in Appetite
Did you know people who are experiencing depression might experience appetite changes in either direction? Some people experience a reduction in appetite, while others experience an increase! Researchers aren’t clear yet on why people experience either a reduction or increase, but this is important to pay attention to. This makes sense, though, because we might also react differently when feeling a higher level of stress: some people “stress eat” while others feel no appetite and lose interest in eating. When depressed, maybe you aren’t experiencing the typical emotional reactions, but you notice changes in sleep or appetite. This is a great way to check in with yourself about how you’re feeling recently: emotionally, physically, and relationally with others! Have you experienced low energy and no desire to eat in a way that’s unusual for you? These are things to consider about your overall well-being.
#3 – Withdrawing from Spiritual/Religious Practices
Withdrawing from friends is usually a common red flag we know to look for, but what about withdrawing from things that align with our values? When people are depressed, they might stop attending services, practicing readings, engaging in yoga, or going on walks in nature. Whether someone has specific religious practices or activities that provide them a sense of meaning, these activities might be impacted when people are feeling depressed. Importantly, these practices can help provide a buffer against feeling depressed as well. Once people have lost the motivation or interest in the activities that create a sense of connection and meaning, whatever that looks like for each person, that can unfortunately contribute to a cycle of feeling more depressed and then further distance from these activities. Incorporating existing or new practices that strengthen a sense of meaning or connection to the world/others can start combating symptoms of depression.
These three signs, along with restlessness and changes in academic performance, are experiences you might not first consider as depression. Restlessness, for example, is usually the opposite of what we consider when we think of depression. Of course, changes in these areas might also indicate other challenges as well, and that’s why noticing any new changes might be helpful.
Considering any of these experiences as a “check engine light” might help you increase awareness of any changes and language to use in therapy. Noticing the variety of depression experiences might also help others! Think about kids who might be not performing as well in school or seem more irritable. Think about your friends that have canceled yoga or have not attended church recently. Reaching out to our community when we notice any changes could provide an opening for support and connection! If you’re noticing any of these changes, give us a call to schedule an appointment.