September 28, 2022
Primary care provider Dr. Tina Bradley answers some frequently asked questions about depression and seeking care.
How do I know if I’m experiencing depression versus just feeling down? When should I talk to a doctor about it?
Everyone feels down sometimes. How do you know when these feelings cross over into clinical depression? People that are depressed feel down, but it is more than that. Clinical depression involves other symptoms as well. You may also experience some of the following additional symptoms if you are clinically depressed:
- feeling exhausted all the time
- loss of interest in activities that you would normally enjoy
- finding day-to-day life difficult
- difficulty sleeping
- sudden crying spells
- withdrawing from others
- feeling of hopelessness
- changes in appetite
- inability to concentrate
- feelings of guilt, blaming yourself or feeling like you are a failure
- worrying a lot
- irritability or moodiness
- feeling unusual aches and pains
- thoughts of self harm
If you have noticed these changes in yourself, or if you see these changes in others that persist over a few weeks, then you should consider making an appointment with your primary care physician. And certainly anytime you or someone you know expresses thoughts or feelings of self-harm, you should reach out for help immediately.
Also, it is important to realize that episodes of depression can be triggered by a sad event, or they can seemingly come out of nowhere. I often have patients tell me that they have no reason to feel this way, but there does not have to be a reason!
What might the course of treatment for depression look like?
When you see your physician, they will ask you questions, perform a physical exam and may run certain lab tests to rule out any underlying physical health problems.
Most often the treatment for depression is multifaceted. Your physician will:
- Talk to you about support that is available, such as counseling or a support group
- May offer you medication, if that is appropriate
- Recommend lifestyle changes that can improve your mental health, such as exercise, better eating habits
- May refer you to a specialist if that is deemed necessary
Does depression look different for men and women?
For women, hormonal changes during pregnancy, childbirth and lactation can increase an individual’s vulnerability to depression. Similarly, menopause, another time of hormonal changes, can also be associated with an increased risk of depression. Research also indicates that women may be more likely to show more typical and recognizable symptoms of depression than men. Women may be more likely to talk about how they feel and seek help. Society traditionally has pressured men to be more stoic and less likely to express their emotions openly. Hopefully these societal pressures will continue to shift and all genders will feel comfortable expressing their feelings and seeking help.
What would you tell a patient who might feel stigmatized or reluctant about seeking treatment for depression?
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health, it’s common to feel different than other people or to feel like no one else understands.
Many people are afraid to share their feelings because they are afraid of being judged and treated differently. But know you are not alone! Depression is very common, affecting over 21 million Americans every year. And fortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness seems to be changing as more and more people speak out and share their experiences with their own mental health.
How does seasonal affective disorder differ from depression?
Pumpkin spice and snow flurries are not everyone’s favorite time of year! Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you're like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. It is thought that shorter days and less daylight may trigger a chemical change in the brain, leading to symptoms of depression. You can talk to your physician about finding help with the symptoms of SAD.
What are the warning signs that depression might be leading to thoughts of suicide?
It’s critical to recognize and take action when you or a loved one may be experiencing depression that leads to thoughts of self-harm. Common warning signs of suicide include:
- Talking about wanting to die, feelings of great guilt or shame and being a burden to others
- Feeling hopeless, trapped or having no reason to live, extremely sad, more anxious and agitated or full of rage
- Feeling unbearable emotional or physical pain
- Changing behaviors such as making a plan or researching ways to die, withdrawing from friends and family, saying goodbye, giving away important items; taking dangerous risks such as driving extremely fast; displaying extreme mood swings, using drugs or alcohol more often
If these warning symptoms apply to you or someone you know, get help now! Call a suicide hotline. In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat at 988lifeline.org/chat/. Services are free and confidential. Or you can always also call 911. Learn more about suicide prevention and awareness here.
Make an appointment with Dr. Bradley by calling 812.282.4844, or tap to find another caring primary care provider who is ready to help you manage symptoms of depression. Don’t wait to seek help!