Here’s the thing about anxiety and depression and other chronic mental illnesses: They’re not always just a thing when the people with them are so stricken that they can’t function. They’re also there when these people appear to be going about their everyday business. Sometimes it’s like a background noise; there are times when you can tune it out. Other times the volume gets so high it’s deafening, and you can’t help but fall to the ground for a while. A “good” mental health day might just be one where you can hide the fact that there’s something wrong, or where you can distract yourself enough to focus on something else. A “good” mental health day doesn’t mean the illness is cured, or is even in remission. It just means you have a little more strength to help you get through the day.
Are there different types of depression?
Yes, there are multiple types of depression. This resource will focus on Major Depressive Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), because they’re the depressive disorders most likely to affect College/University students.
MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER (MDD)
To be diagnosed with MDD, you must have either (a) an intense and persistent low (or irritable) mood or (b) a lack of interest or pleasure in the things you usually like, every day for at least 2 weeks. You also must have at least 5 of the symptoms listed below. These symptoms need to significantly interfere with your ability to live a normal life. Sometimes people with this kind of depression experience psychosis, which means their thinking is detached from reality. The symptoms are:
- Gaining or losing a significant amount of weight
- Sleeping much more or much less than usual
- Extreme restlessness or lack of movement noticed by others
- Feeling really tired or lacking energy
- Feeling worthless or inappropriately guilty (i.e., when you haven’t done anything wrong)
- Extreme difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide, suicide plan, attempted suicide
- Feeling hopeless
This is very similar to MDD except that it is less severe and may last years without being diagnosed. The person may be able to get through daily functioning (with some struggle) but still has problems with his or her mood. The symptoms are:
- Depressed mood most of the day, more days than not, for at least 1 to 2 years
- Many of the additional symptoms listed above
SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER (SAD), A.K.A. MDD WITH SEASONAL PATTERN
This is a type of depression that usually occurs at certain times of the year, often in fall and winter when there is less sunlight. The symptoms are:
- Same symptoms as above, but person has periods without any symptoms at characteristic times of year (often spring and summer).
- Needs to happen for more than one year to be diagnosed (otherwise, it’s not a pattern).
Beginner's Guide to Understanding Depression
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- People with depression often feel hopeless, worthless, useless, etc.
- People with depression can get exhausted very easily/experience chronic fatigue
- People with depression may have a pessimistic perspective on life
- People with depression often feel sad for no reason for weeks/months/years on end
WHAT NOT TO SAY
- "Just stop being sad". Can someone with cancer just stop being sick?
- "Stay strong." Being weak is okay too, and if we develop a cultural norm where we can't talk about the times we feel sick, we will continue to lose lives.
- "Your life is great!" Life style, money, environment, age, weight, race do not always contribute to depression.
- "You should be on medication." Medication does not always work for everyone, and it can be a very difficult, long process.
- "Other people have it worse."
WHAT YOU CAN SAY
- "Are you feeling okay today?"
- "Is there anything I can do for you?"
- "Are you interested in seeing a doctor?"
- "I love you/care for you/support you."
- "I know it may be hard to see, but recovery is possible."
- "What makes you happy?"
- "If you'd like company, I'm here."
WHAT NOT TO DO
- Ignore them
- Blow them off over and over again
- Invalidate their feelings
- Make empty promises