The recent suicides in the news have had everyone thinking and talking about depression. I've seen many people posting messages on their Facebook timelines. This is good. Awareness is good. Most of these posts are ones asking people to talk about their feelings, letting them know there's help and support out there. This is also good, and true. I'll do the same myself at the end of this post. But it seems to me that in many of these discussions, symptoms of depression seem to remain something that's Out There, happening to Other People. Perhaps it's that the term Mental Illness is so cold and clinical and serious or perhaps it's that what tends to make the news are the most heart-wrenching examples of depression.
Yet, the longer I'm on this earth, as a human/mom/neighbor/friend/wife/family member and certainly as a therapist, the more I'm realizing that feelings of depression are pretty universal. I believe that most of us have likely experienced symptoms of depression at some point in our lives. You may think to yourself, "No, not me. I've felt badly but never ever wanted to harm myself." I'm relieved you never reached that nadir...but I want you to know that doesn't necessarily mean you weren't depressed. While being suicidal likely means you are depressed, it doesn't have to go the other way. You can be depressed but not be suicidal. Suicidality is one of the many possible symptoms, but not a requisite to be diagnosable as depressed.
I'd like to share with you what the criteria actually are for Major Depressive Disorder. Major Depressive Disorder is diagnosable by the occurrence of one or more major depressive episodes. Major depressive episodes are defined by experiencing 5 or more of the following symptoms for at least a two-week period, according to the DSM-5:
1. Depressed mood (in kids and teens this can look like irritability)
2. Markedly diminished loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities
3. Significant change in weight or appetite
4. Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
5. Psychomotor agitation or retardation (a speeding or slowing of muscle movement)
6. Fatigue or loss of energy
7. Feelings of worthlessness (low self-esteem) or excessive or inappropriate guilt
8. Diminished ability to think, concentrate or indecisiveness
9. Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), thoughts of committing suicide without a plan, thoughts of committing suicide with a plan, a suicide attempt
As mentioned above, the episode must be at least two weeks long, represent a change from previous functioning, not be precipitated by drug use, not meet the criteria for another mental disorder like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and be distinguishable from a reaction to a significant loss. At least one of the symptoms must be depressed mood or loss of interest of pleasure in activities.
Phew, that was a lot. But I feel it's important to put that out there because after looking at that list and reading the criteria, maybe depression isn't so Out There anymore. Maybe it's a lot closer to your life than you may have known. Maybe you recognize some of your own current or past feelings or experiences in there. Maybe it makes you think of someone close to you who may be struggling more than anyone realized. While suicide doesn't necessarily touch everyone (thank Sweet Baby Jeebus), I think depression likely does.
If you think you might be experiencing something that could qualify as a depressive episode, however mild it may seem to you, or you aren't sure, please seriously consider consulting a professional to talk about it. Or if you think a loved one may be going through this, talk to them about your concerns. Someone doesn't have to be one of the most grave and serious cases to deserve help. I can't tell you how many times I hear people talk themselves out of seeking professional help because they tell themselves, "Well, other people in this world have bigger problems." That may be true, but you are worthy of support too. I'll repeat that: You are worthy of support too. The earlier on you can get the right help for yourself when you're dealing with this, the better your chances are of turning things around. You can do it. Open up, let others in, and let others help you navigate this path.