If you are living with some form of depression, you know it is more than feeling sad or having a one-off hard time. It is a mental health condition with symptoms that can affect daily life for weeks, months, or even longer. Signs include a loss of pleasure or interest in activities that were previously enjoyed, sensations of regret and worthlessness, and physical symptoms such as aches, sleeping difficulties, and changes in appetite.
It can be very difficult to know how to ask for help when you are dealing with mental health problems. Seeking a support group or even beginning the process of self-care at home might seem like impossible tasks. Learning more about what depression is can help you to find the words needed to ask for help. Support and treatment are available, and you can heal.
What Is Depression?
If you are feeling depressed and could use support, there's no further justification needed to ask for help. When it comes to knowing how you are feeling and what your daily experience is, you are the expert on you.
This illness comes in many shapes and sizes. People can experience it as perinatal or postnatal depression when they are pregnant or after giving birth. They could experience it at the same time every year. This could be seasonal affective disorder (summer pattern or winter pattern). A person might go through depressive episodes as part of their bipolar disorder. They could also go through major episodes of depression or live with a persistent sense of low mood. Some people also experience depressive symptoms as part of a severe type of premenstrual syndrome.
The various depressive disorders have a great range of symptoms, and they manifest in emotional, psychological, physical, and behavioral ways. Your depression may be a variety that isn't frequently discussed in the media, such as summer pattern seasonal affective disorder. Or you may experience depression mixed with symptoms of another mental health disorder.
What Are Common Signs of Depression?
You may not be sure whether you are experiencing depression. The following are signs of depression that medical professionals look for when carrying out an assessment. The symptoms of depression can take many forms and you may not go through every experience on this list.
Common Signs of Depression
- Depressed or sad emotional state
- Hopelessness or joylessness
- Loss of interest in activities that you typically enjoy
- Loss of energy, unexplained fatigue, or lethargy
- Appetite changes
- Weight loss or weight gain not driven by dieting
- Sleep changes (either difficulty sleeping or oversleeping)
- Purposeless physical activity – pacing, handwringing, restlessness
- Difficulty thinking, maintaining focus, or decision-making (brain fog)
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Loss of purpose, desires, or aims
- Suicidal ideation or frequent thoughts of death or self-harm
It's also normal to experience behavioral and social challenges, such as:
- Avoiding contact with friends and loved ones
- Being more isolated, frequently staying home and away from social activities
- Stopping engagement with past hobbies and interests
- Difficulties at work, at home, or in family life
- Struggling with self-care basics such as eating or sleeping regularly, or maintaining routine hygiene.
Tips for Asking for Help With Mental Health
Talking to others about your mental health can feel challenging. It could be the first time that you have ever opened up to others in this way. Or you may be aware of other issues such as people having certain expectations of how they think you should behave. Remember that depression is an illness, just like any physical condition, and going to seek help is a responsible act of self-care. The choice to seek support is among the hardest and most valuable ones you will face in your journey to recovery.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 21 million adults aged 18 or older experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2020 – accounting for 8.4% of all adults in the country. You should know from this that you are far from alone.
Here are some tips for reaching out.
Confront Your Own Assumptions
So much stigma still surrounds the idea of mental illness, and there is no more important battleground for facing these ideas than within yourself. Resist any demoralizing and alienating thoughts that struggling with depression is a sign of being flawed, a burden, or a weakness. Reaching out for help when you need it is a protective and courageous act.
If you haven't received a diagnosis, it is also a good idea to unpack your thoughts about seeking an assessment. Many people do not manage to access the best care they can due to apprehension over receiving a formal diagnosis, or stigma around therapy and medication. Keep in mind that recovering your mental and emotional wellness is just as possible as healing a broken bone. No one would falter at the idea of seeing a doctor after a car accident.
Consider Who You Ask
Feeling depressed often goes hand-in-hand with feeling alone, and it can be hard to know who to approach to ask for help.
Sometimes you don't need to look any further than your most intimate circle of family members and close friends. That said, talking about struggling with mental health is sometimes a hard subject to bring up for the first time with people whose lives and identities are very intertwined.
If you are afraid that the person on the other end may respond defensively or make things worse if you bring the subject up, find another, non-judgmental listener. If you follow a faith, the religious leader at your congregation (or the pastoral lead, if there is one present) may possibly be trained and accustomed to offering compassionate personal and emotional guidance. Students at school and college often have a counseling and mental health team available full-time on campus.
Looking slightly further afield, most of our communities have mental health support groups operating slightly out of sight. There are also online sources of guidance such as the government's mental health website.
Seek Professional Help
The first person you talk to about your depression doesn't have to be a family member or friend. Sometimes we would actively advise against it, especially if your close friends and community members are not the types to take the possibility of a mental health disorder seriously.
If you know you are struggling to cope, a therapist or other mental health professional will know where to start. They can walk you through the effective treatment options available to you, from support groups to guided self-help sessions, CBT, and medication.
In some cases, people have developed a sense of some of the contributing factors to their depression or general struggle with mental health. If that is the case, it may make sense to look into therapist specializations. Mental health professionals, as well as larger treatment centers, specialize in themes and treatment modalities such as family therapy, gender-based approaches, substance use disorders, and trauma treatment, to name a few. That said, you don't necessarily need to come to your first appointment with any preconceived ideas about where your recovery will take you.
Rehearse Your Points
Unfortunately, talking about their own mental illness is quite anxiety-provoking for most people even at the best of times, and lots of people recoil at the idea of asking for help even when they know they need it.
Overcoming the sometimes overwhelming feelings associated with asking for help takes practice. Give yourself a break and rehearse each main point ahead of time. Take some time to start writing ideas down, and practice vocalizing the parts that are hard to say out loud. Many people struggle with the word depression. If that describes you, instead begin by saying "I'm not okay," and work up to it.
Try to Be Specific
For a lot of people experiencing depression, it manifests as a kind of foggy, apathetic state. Keeping track of the details of memories can be challenging, and staying focused can be just as much so.
Before sitting someone down and asking for help, you may find it useful to think about the areas where your mental health is giving you practical problems. This could help you to communicate how it is affecting you and where you would appreciate some assistance.
Consider how your depression is affecting your ability to manage the following.
- Relationships (to friends and loved ones)
- Family responsibilities
- Career or education
People without medical experience may be unsure how to help a person who is suffering from depression. It can be helpful for them to hear about ways they can make a difference in one of the areas above.
Help from Cornerstone
We at Cornerstone know exactly how lonely depression can be. For everyone, asking for help is the most important first step in the journey to recovery.
If you're not sure where to turn, we offer a range of treatment programs specifically to support clients who are struggling to cope with depression. Our team is here 24/7 to listen and guide you to the right therapy for you. Contact us today if you would like to speak with us about your options.