In addition to seeing clients in my counseling practice, I also teach a couple math classes at Delta Streets Academy.
Early last week in the middle of my algebra II class, a student asked one of those questions that, as a teacher, reminded me that some of my students aren’t as focused on how to break down a cube root. Right as I was explaining how to find the answer, this student raised his hand and asked, “Mr. McCray, what does it mean if you’re depressed?” It was one of those moments that caught me off guard. I was so locked into the math problem that I couldn’t imagine my mind — or any of my students’ minds, for that matter — being anywhere else.
After thinking about it, though, I realized that my student had a really good question, albeit he asked it at the wrong time.
Depression is this thing that we talk about and hear that people are dealing with, but how many people actually know what it is? How often have you heard someone use the term out of context, saying something such as, “I’m just so depressed today?”
While we talk about depression, I think that there’s a fair amount of misinformation out there on what qualifies as clinical depression. So, let’s take a look at what depression actually looks like.
Perhaps the most common misconception about depression is that it is synonymous with feeling bad or having a bad day. While I don’t think that people actually think that depression is the same as having a bad day, we can sometimes use the word a tad lightly in describing how we are feeling. In reality, depression and sadness do go hand in hand, but it’s not just an “I feel depressed/sad today” experience.
Instead, people who experience depression often feel sad every day. Sometimes there are specific reasons why someone is having a depressive episode. Most often, it’s due to some type of loss, whether that is grief from the death of a loved one or the loss of a relationship due to turmoil. But sometimes people experience depression, and they don’t really know why they are feeling sad every day. I’ve met with people who each tell me that their life is seemingly great — a good job, a loving spouse and kids. But, they are still sad every day.
A second indicator of depression is if you no longer enjoy doing things that you normally really like doing. There can be a listlessness that comes with depression. Suddenly, you can’t seem to make yourself do the things that you used to love. I’ve heard people tell me that they no longer want to go hunting, that they used to love shopping but now they just stay at home, or that they keep saying “no” to invitations to spend time with friends.
While those are the two main indicators of depression, there are many other potential symptoms. In addition to being sad most days or feeling a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, depressed people may experience extremes in their sleep (either sleeping in excess or not sleeping much at all), their appetite (eating too much or not enough), and their physical activity (feeling restless or lethargic). Other signs of depression can be fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or thoughts of death or suicide.
One thing that I’ve seen in my years working with people who are experiencing depression is how hard it is to summon the motivation to try to do things to work through their depression on their own. It can be such a paralyzing experience, so my encouragement to anyone who might think that they are depressed would be to start by asking for help. Figure out one step you can take, whether it is calling your doctor, talking about your feelings with a friend or making it a goal to go on a short walk each day. Regardless what it is, you have to take the first step to get out of the paralysis.
If you think that you or someone you love might be depressed, you can take the Beck Depression Inventory for free on the internet. It’s a quick, easy-to-score test that can help you determine if you are experiencing depression. Check it out!
• Mischa McCray is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Send questions or topics you’d like him to discuss to firstname.lastname@example.org.