Everyone feels sad every now and then. And sometimes, it can be unclear whether you have depression or a different ailment.
For instance, one common misconception is that depression is simply a state of mind. However, many people experience debilitating physical symptoms, like chest pain and brain fog.
That being said, how are you supposed to know when you need professional help?
If your depression…
- Is lasting
- Is seriously interfering with your ability to function socially or academically
- Is causing you to contemplate or plan to commit suicide
… Try to get help as soon as possible.
Depression is not only hard to endure, it can also feel paralyzing. If you’re experiencing mental and/or physical symptoms of depression, don’t ignore them—prolonged depression can lead to even more severe symptoms.
Depending on the type and severity of your depression, your symptoms may be highly treatable. It’s worth exploring different ways to relieve your suffering.
The first step, though, is to acknowledge that you need help.
It’s totally normal to feel awkward or uncomfortable asking for help, especially when you’re not sure how others will react. You may have had negative experiences in the past that make it difficult for you to ask for help now.
Rather than being distracted by the discomfort of asking for help, try to focus on your main goal: to improve your mental health.
What does depression look like?
When someone is depressed, it can be difficult to see joy or happiness in their own life and the world around them. Things that used to be fun or relaxing may lose their luster. When you can’t enjoy the things you used to, it can create even more frustration and sadness.
Depression tends to develop over the course of a few months or years. Sometimes it’s not easy to spot changes in mood. It’s not immediately obvious–you might start by struggling with the little things, and you might tell yourself it’s temporary and it’ll pass. But when your low mood is persistent and affects your ability to focus in school, interact with others, or take care of yourself, it’s probably time to get help.
Common symptoms of teen depression
- Problems at school. When you’re depressed, you have low energy, and it can be hard to concentrate on schoolwork. This can lead to outcomes like skipping class, getting lower grades, or having an unusually hard time with completing schoolwork.
- Running away. To someone with depression, life can feel so overwhelming that you want to escape it all.
- Smartphone addiction. Another way that escapism can manifest is by going online. However, too much smartphone and Internet use only increases your sense of isolation, which inevitably leads to worse depression.
- Drug and alcohol abuse. Some people deal with their depression by self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, substance abuse only makes things worse.
- Low self-esteem. Depression can trigger and intensify negative feelings like shame, low self-efficacy, and unworthiness.
- Reckless behavior. Depression is linked to high-risk behaviors. Common risky behaviors include physical bullying, carrying a weapon, self-harm, reckless driving, binge drinking, and unsafe sex.
- Violence. Depression often lurks just beneath the surface of aggression and violence.
When should I get help for depression?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), there are a few specific symptoms to look out for. You should look for professional help if you’ve been experiencing these symptoms for two weeks or longer.
When to get help for depression
- Feeling hopeless. It’s normal to feel frustrated and sad on occasion. However, when you feel persistently, deeply hopeless–and it affects your ability to move forward–it becomes difficult to move forward and make progress. A hallmark sign of depression is not being able to see anything beyond your pain.
- Having difficulty concentrating. We all have moments where we forget our pet’s name or leave our personal belongings at school. However, when you have depression, your ability to concentrate and make decisions goes down. You tend to make mistakes more often, which can cause a lot of frustration.
- Having unexplained physical aches and pain. According to researchers, 69 percent of people with depression consulted a doctor for aches and pains. Mood disorders can also show up in surprising ways, including bloating, backaches, or joint pain.
- Anhedonia. Anhedonia is a feeling that causes you to to lose interest in activities and events that you used to enjoy. Maybe you’re someone who loves hanging out with friends, playing a sport, and listening to music. But for the past few weeks, you’re not interested in doing any of these things. This kind of apathy is a red flag for depression.
- Self-medicating. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), about 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder, such as depression, also have a substance abuse disorder, and about 20 percent of those struggling with substance problems also have an anxiety or mood disorder. If you relieve your anxiety or depression with alcohol or any kind of drug, it’s time to get help.
- Sleep disturbance. One of the most common symptoms of depression is a change in sleep habits. You may find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep during the night. You can also have excessive daytime sleepiness or even sleep too much at night.
- Changes in appetite. Appetite and weight changes are common among people with depression. Some depressed individuals experience increased appetite and “eat their feelings away,” while others lose any and all interest in eating. Either way, a significant change in body weight can be warning sign for depression.
- Mood swings, irritability, and agitation. If you have been experiencing prolonged periods of moodiness, irritability, and agitation, you may be set off by the smallest things. Loud chewing or drinking, people who walk slowly, and loud music can all trigger a bad mood.
- Feeling worthless. When you have depression, it’s common to struggle with your sense of self—which leads to feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, or insignificance. You may struggle with negative thoughts about yourself, have difficulty finding the motivation to work towards your goals, or feel that none of your efforts will make a difference. It’s important to find ways to manage your feelings; if left untreated, they can lead to thoughts of self-harm.
- Thinking about self-harm. Self-harm can be a way of dealing with deep emotional pain. It may help you express feelings you can’t put into words, distract you from your life, or release deep distress. You might feel embarrassed or ashamed about telling someone, but it’s important to know that there are other ways to cope with everything that’s going on inside without having to hurt yourself.
getting evaluated for depression
Identifying depression in can be difficult because symptoms vary between individuals, and it can be episodic, appearing to come and go. Only a doctor, psychiatrist, or other qualified mental health professional can diagnose teen depression.
How to Get Help for Depression
If you feel depressed and are trying to deal with it on your own, you should know that there is help out there. Depression is a serious mental health issue that should be treated as soon as possible.
Start a conversation with your parents about getting help for depression. You can talk to your primary care physician about your symptoms; your physician will help you decide whether you’ll benefit the most from medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with someone face-to-face, online therapy is just as effective.
You have more power over depression than you may think! Don’t be afraid to ask for help so you can live a happier, healthier, and more hopeful life.