On Your Health

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How to Spot Depression in Loved Ones

One in five Americans is affected by mental illness. You probably know at least one person who has experienced anxiety, depression or something of the like in their life. While common, it can sometimes be difficult to spot in loved ones.

In fact, many of the 16 million Americans who deal with depression are left untreated or undiagnosed. As a family member or friend, deciphering between temporary sad moods or prolonged depressive episodes is an unenviable task. To mark Mental Health Awareness Month, we wanted to highlight the signs and symptoms of depression, what to look for in your loved ones and the steps you can take to help if a loved one is depressed.

Signs and symptoms of depression

Recognizing and diagnosing depression can be difficult, as it affects people differently. Depression can look different depending on your age or gender.

Signs of depression in children

The most noticeable signs of depression in children or adolescents involve changes at home, school or in social situations.

As a parent or relative, be aware of any emotional or behavioral changes. 

Emotional changes may include sadness, frustration or anger. Children with depression may become more irritable or easily annoyed. They can also lose interest in activities they once enjoyed or may no longer enjoy being around family or friends. Sometimes, depression can masquerade as an attention deficit disorder. This is primarily because depression can cause children to have trouble thinking, concentrating on tasks, making decisions or remembering topics or tasks.

Behavioral changes may include a lack of energy, fatigue, difficulty sleeping or changes in appetite. You may also notice social isolation, such as spending time alone in bed, and less attention to hygiene, including not showering or keeping up with their appearance. In more severe cases of depression, you may physically notice self-harm instances of cutting or burning their skin.

Signs of depression in women

As children grow older into their teenage and adult years, females are more likely to become depressed, primarily due to biological and hormonal changes.

There are specific types of depression that only affect women, mainly due to hormonal changes that occur at various times of their lives. For instance, women can become depressed when pregnant, called perinatal depression, or after the birth of their child, called postpartum depression. Women may also experience depression during their menstrual cycle or during menopause.

Common signs of depression in women include sadness, helplessness, decreased libido and digestive issues such as diarrhea or constipation. They may also experience weight gain, an increased appetite and trouble sleeping.

Signs of depression in men

Men tend to be less emotional and less outward with their feelings, so it can be difficult to spot depression. Often, depression in men can be confused with aggression or anger. 

There are still several ways to tell if a loved one is depressed. A change in sleeping patterns or a disinterest in work or other hobbies can be tell-tale signs since depression often causes fatigue. They may also present physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, chest pain, headaches or digestive issues.

Signs of depression in elderly people

Don’t confuse depression with old age. Yes, older adults may seem like they are more tired than usual or lack the drive they once had. But, there is a difference between slowing down as you age and depression.

Diagnosing depression in older adults can be difficult since they may not show typical signs of depression. Instead, they may display a lack of emotions rather than a depressed mood. They can also become increasingly grump or irritable. Physically, trouble sleeping and constant fatigue are often signs of depression.

Types of Depression

Depression is a broad term to describe a sad mood that interferes with everyday life.

One in six adults will experience symptoms associated with depression at some time in their life, and the condition affects 16 million American adults every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It’s unclear what causes depression, but medical experts believe genetics, biological factors, psychological factors and your environment all play a role. For example, depression can run in the family or it can arise from traumatic or stressful events. Major life changes and medical problems can also increase your chances of becoming depressed.

There are six main types of depression, although most diagnoses fall under two categories: major depression or persistent depression.

Major depressive disorder: This is what most people think of when they hear the word “depression.” Major depression involves experiencing symptoms, such as hopelessness and sadness, most of the day for at least two weeks. Symptoms can last months or years and interfere with your ability to perform simple tasks. About 7 percent of adults (more than 17 million) have at least one major depressive episode per year.

Persistent depressive disorder: This condition, previously known as dysthymia, is a less severe form of major depression, but one that is persistent and lasts for at least two years. People with persistent depression can still live a normal life and complete tasks, but they don’t get the same joy and happiness as they once did. An estimated 1.3 percent of adults will have persistent depressive disorder at some point in their lives.

Bipolar disorder: People with this disorder experience depression followed by periods of positive mood swings. Bipolar disorder used to be called manic-depressive disorder due to the associated steep emotional mood changes. These episodes don’t last long, but they can be highly disruptive. The “positive” nature of these mood swings is often misleading, as they can include taking risks and seeking pleasure through dangerous acts. More than 4 percent of adults will experience bipolar disorder in their lives.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): As the name suggests, this disorder depends on the seasons. SAD generally begins in the fall when days are shorter and sunlight is less abundant. The depression then subsides in the spring and summer. About 10 percent of Americans suffer from mild SAD. It’s more common in women and typically doesn't start until your 20s.

Perinatal depression: This type of depression is common either when women are pregnant or in the 12 months after they give birth, also called postpartum depression. The depressive episodes, which can be both major or minor, affect one in seven women. 

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder: This type of depression also affects women in the time leading up to a menstrual cycle. Depression symptoms usually begin after a woman ovulates and end once the period begins. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). These disorders affect up to 12 percent of women.

What to do when someone is depressed

Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or that something is wrong with your loved one. It’s a health condition that is no different than a virus or disease. While some illnesses go away on their own, depression isn’t one of them. If anything, symptoms can compound and worsen over time.

As a family member or friend, you should take note of your loved ones' physical and emotional symptoms. If they continue and begin to interfere with their daily routines, it may be time to have a conversation with them.

When offering support, do so with compassion, patience and understanding. A person with depression can feel undesirable or unwanted, so encourage your loved ones to stay involved in your life. Invite them over for dinner or plan a trip with them to know they’re loved.

In certain situations, you can suggest they talk to a doctor or therapist. Reassure them they can control their depression with the proper therapeutic treatments.

Contact your child’s primary care provider and notify them of the situation if they start showing signs of depression. If it’s your spouse, sibling or parent, consider talking to them first about how you can help them manage their depression.

It’s important to remember comments about suicide shouldn’t be taken lightly, even if they’re used as a call for help. Mention these comments to your loved one’s doctor or therapist. In emergency situations, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

If your loved one has risk factors or shows warning signs for depression, INTEGRIS Health offers a free, confidential and anonymous online screening to help you determine if a professional consultation may be helpful. You can also contact INTEGRIS Mental Health to learn more about possible treatment options.


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