Can you be depressed without knowing it?

Posted on June 2, 2017

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Many people who are annually treated by therapists exhibit a blindness to their own depression. Even our friends and family, the people we're closest to, might not realise we're depressed - especially if we're good at "soldiering on." They may sense we're not at our best, but might attribute it to other factors.

So given the greater public awareness of depression, how is it possible to not know when it's present? According to Seth J. Gillihan of Psychology Today, there are several factors that can play a role:


1. Depression can look really different from person to person.

Two people who are both depressed might not have any symptoms in common. One person might feel really low, have insomnia, be unable to eat more than a few bites at a time, and be so miserable he's considering ending his own life. Another person might not feel noticeably down, but still has no interest in anything, sleeping for 12 hours a day but nonetheless waking up fatigued and physically slowed. As different as these two examples are, they both are consistent with major depressive disorder. The severity of depression can vary from case to case, as well.

2. Depression tends to develop gradually.

As Gillihan puts it, the development of depression can be like hair growing, with no noticeable change day to day or even week to week. "Since we're never not with ourselves, we may not have a good sense of small changes over time as our mood, energy, and view of ourselves dip. And then one day, we might finally look at ourselves and barely recognize the person we see, as the cumulative changes become obvious."

3. There may be an obvious reason for feeling down.

When we're going through major challenges like health problems, a painful divorce, or a job loss, we expect to feel poorly. It would be strange, even, if our moods weren't affected to some extent. Thus we might not label our reaction "depression", as it seems to be understandable. But these kinds of losses are in fact among the most consistent predictors of depression, which can eventually surface without us even realising.

4. There may be NO obvious for feeling down.

On the other hand, our moods can shift without any cause with which we can identify. It could be that we have a genetic predisposition to feel down, or that we're sensitive to seasonal shifts (a phenomenon also known as 'seasonal affective disorder'). There could also be identifiable changes in our lives that could account for our low mood, but we fail to make the connection. Either way, the ultimate cause is due to neither nature nor nurture, but rather, to a blend of both. Only from looking at the big picture can we see that there are always outside, confounding factors that can play into how we feel.

5. We don't want to see ourselves as "depressed."

Despite progress over the past few decades, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding the very mood disorder. We may still see depression as a "weakness" or "personal failure" and, as a result, not want to recognize it within ourselves. Perhaps we are prided on strength and resilience, and depression just doesn't "fit" with our identity - leading us to look for any alternative explanation for the way we're feeling.


How Recognizing Depression Helps

"Once we've named it, we know how to treat it. Several 'talk therapies' have strong research evidence for alleviating depression...There are also medications that are used to treat [it], some of which can be as effective as the best psychotherapies."


If you or a loved one has been struggling and some of your symptoms reflect depression, it may be a good idea to schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor or a mental health professional.

However we deal with depression, know that we don't have to suffer - help is available. "And like anything else, knowing what we're dealing with is half the battle."


Category(s):Depression, Self-Care / Self Compassion

Source material from Psychology Today


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