Depression is a common mental health condition that affects one in eight Canadians over their lifespan. It is a legitimate illness worth taking seriously because of the detrimental impact it can have on the quality of your life and that of your loved ones. Unfortunately, depression is harder to detect in people who exhibit atypical symptoms. These individuals struggle with the same inner turmoil as other depressed individuals. Yet they can get out of bed, hold down a job and juggle family obligations. While not a clinical term, therapists refer to “high functioning depression” when describing the subtly different symptoms these individuals present with. Recognizing them as signs of depression can allow individuals to make lifestyle changes or access treatment to relieve the tremendous burden they often bear in silence.
What is Depression?
Depression is a persistent mood disorder. For many, the onset of depression often occurs after a major life event, such as the death of a loved one, a stressful relationship or breakup, a job loss or financial strain. However, genetics, your socio-economic environment along with your childhood conditioning also contribute to the state of your mental health. The signs of depression vary by individual and can range from mild to severe. What depressed individuals share in common are persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness. In addition, they often lack interest in hobbies, have low motivation and experience sleep disruption.
Physicians use a classification standard called the DSM-5 to diagnose depression. It involves asking you a series of questions. They will render a diagnosis of clinical depression if you exhibit at least five symptoms for a minimum of two weeks. For those suffering from high functioning depression, medical professionals could miss your non-apparent observable and behavioural symptoms. You may not suffer from extreme fatigue or have suicidal thoughts, for example. However, your profound emotional anguish is real. The signs of depression listed below do not constitute diagnostic evidence of the illness on their own. But recognizing and verbalizing them to your medical professional can help them link your condition to depression.
1: Faking It
It is completely normal to feel low from time to time. But with depression, you are likely to struggle through your daily activities with a heavy heart and persistent grey cloud over your head. Even good vibes around you leave you feeling like a downer. When this occurs, some individuals deploy a strategy of “faking it” just to get through the day. Such behaviour is normalized and even encouraged in corporate settings, where exhibiting authentic negative emotions may be considered unprofessional. This “fake-it-till-you-make-it” culture can force you to carry a sham cheery disposition at work, even while your spirit feels crushed. If you also lack space to let your true emotions loose in your private life, then your plight might be unbearable.
Also, “faking it”, when combined with perfectionism, can lead to a perfect storm. Some individuals project artificial bravado to hide a fear of being found out that they don’t have what it takes. Surprisingly, this dynamic, dubbed “Imposter Syndrome” often manifests itself in successful people. Chronic self-doubt plagues these individuals, and they suffer from a sense of intellectual fraudulence. No matter what, they have difficulty internalizing their achievements and live in a constant state of anxiety. While depression and anxiety remain two different mood disorders, they commonly occur together.
If you recognize either of the behaviour patterns described above in yourself, it can be useful to have a candid discussion about it with your physician or therapist, who can then determine if these are signs of depression.
2. Unreasonable Irritability and Anger As Signs of Depression
Persistent irritability and anger eruptions that accompany it signal that you are at the end of your rope. Does snapping at your child or partner leaving you feeling guilty afterwards? Unreasonable irritability and anger show up when you stretch your already depleted reserves too thin to get you through the daily grind. Situations that a healthy person could normally cope with can leave you overwhelmed and at a breaking point. When your frustrations have no place to go, you blow like a pressure cooker.
The problem with persistent irritability is that it leads to self-directed anger. You end up feeling inadequate because you fall short of measuring up to your own expectations. Turning anger on yourself can be one of many signs of depression, and it can contribute to the severity of your symptoms.
Therapists treat anger as a cloak that masks vulnerability. Indeed, many individuals prefer the control of anger compared to succumbing to unguarded feelings of sadness, rejection and hurt. And therein lies the problem. In order to heal the root cause of your anger, you actually need to face those emotions. A trained therapist can help with this exercise and gently get you to a point where the sting dulls and becomes tolerable.
Long-term rage, aggression, anger and irritability create problems on multiple fronts, physically, emotionally and socially. And there is no need for anyone’s life to remain so harsh. Evidence-based treatments, like cognitive behavioural therapy, have proven very effective in bringing those emotions under control.
3. Unhealthy Relationship with Food
Human beings have a complicated relationship with food. We require it to nourish ourselves and to re-energize. When life is in turmoil, we also use it to fill voids, comfort and soothe ourselves. If you are going through a rough patch, stressful thoughts will trigger your fight or flight nervous system response. This infuses adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream, which speeds up your breathing and heartbeat, tenses your muscles and allows you to process racing thoughts.
Extended stress and the lack of an off-switch drive some individuals towards food to calm down. After all, tea and a sweet treat in the afternoon can impart instant relief. However, as soon as the stress returns, you will crave more. For some people, weight gain creates additional stressors related to body-image. And that drives more emotional eating to a point where it becomes a vicious cycle. The psychology is similar to drowning your troubles with alcohol to deaden the pain. This seldom offers a permanent cure. And on the flip side, some individuals restrict eating and delve into excessive exercise to suppress or numb out emotions.
If you persistently self-medicate with food, then inform your physician about it so they can connect the dots. Depression might be the genesis of your weight-gain or weight-loss problem.
4. Insurmountable Guilt
Guilt is a learned emotion influenced by culture, religion, family values and upbringing. And like a coin, it has two sides. On the one hand, it is an incredibly powerful emotion that helps us feel the impact we have on others and allows us to live empathically. On the other hand, it can create lowered self-esteem, increased shame and self-doubt.
Chronic guilt can occur when you make a mistake but have no chance to make amends. Survivor’s Guilt, for example, can leave a lasting negative impact on anyone who has caused and/or survived an accident that involved fatalities. Almost always, you require therapy to help you reframe your emotions about the event.
The Guilt Complex is another problematic manifestation of guilt. It usually stems from dysfunctional childhood conditioning. When overly disapproving parents withhold praise or use guilt to inflict punishment, the child grows up harbouring shame and believing they can’t do anything right. This learned behaviour becomes the foundation for low self-esteem, a lack of resilience to bounce back from mistakes, and self-fulfilling limiting prophecies. The self-loathing also keeps adults from having healthy and happy relationships with others.
People who struggle with chronic guilt remain at a higher risk for depression and anxiety. Speaking to your therapist about it can help you do something about the detrimental effect excessive guilt may be having on your life.
5. Low Libido
Sexual desire, also known as libido, is an important characteristic in most romantic relationships. Low libido can vastly impact the quality of your relationship. However, many individuals avoid seeing a doctor about it because a decreased sex drive is embarrassing to discuss. In general, women are more likely to report low libido problems, and men are prone to under-reporting them. Regardless of gender, getting stuck in a sexless rut can happen to anyone. Low arousal does not automatically mean you have a mood disorder. However, if you notice a marked decrease in your libido that is not typical, you should explore depression as a possible cause.
A hallmark of depression is feelings of worthlessness. It is therefore no surprise that stripping down in front of another person can leave you feeling very vulnerable. Other symptoms of depression include the inability to find pleasure in what you enjoyed before, and sheer exhaustion. Both of these can logically lead to low libido. Your physician will ask about your sex drive when screening you for depression. It could be one of many clear signs of depression, if other indicators are present, too.
Signs of Depression: Seeking Help
Everybody understands the contribution of good nutrition and physical fitness to overall health. But what about your mental health? A healthy mind has a direct bearing on your wellness, too. Yet, many people hesitate to seek professional help for mental suffering compared to physical suffering. The stigma of mental illness can make it a taboo subject. People may not talk about it honestly and openly with their family, friends and colleagues. In fact, many workplaces inadequately accommodate mental health problems compared to physical illnesses.
For some individuals, this associated stigma of mental illness causes them to simply suffer silently. Stigma does not just come from others. If you internalize it also as a sign of personal weakness, then this will keep you from receiving help. It can be empowering to educate yourself about your condition and reach out to others with the same issues. This will go a long way in helping you overcome your self-judgement. Acknowledging a mental health problem shows strength, resiliency and the desire to care for yourself.
Depression can impact the quality of your life in profound ways. It is an illness that should be treated just like you would a physical illness. We all need support with our mental health from time to time. The standard treatment for depression is psychotherapy. Your physician may choose to supplement the therapy with medication, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
Mr. Rogers was famous for saying. “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
About The Author
is a managing director at Beaches Therapy Group, serving clients for over 10 years. We have helped hundreds of individuals manage depression through a blend of psychotherapy treatments. Let’s have a discussion about how our therapy sessions are a worthwhile investment towards happy and healthy relationships.